Thanks to the web and social media we have yet another new advertising term to learn - "Native Advertising." The problem is that even those in-the-know don't know exactly what it is. "The native advertising industry is so new that nobody can agree what it means in the first place," writes Jack Marshall in his Digiday article aptly entitled Native Ad Terminology is a Mess.
The easiest way to start to understand Native Advertising is to look at its counterpart in the print world - the Advertorial. In its most basic format, a native ad is a digital ad that promotes something by trying to appear as if it's not an ad.
So why the new term? Simply put -- Advertorials are simple and Native Advertising is not.
What Advertorials and Native Advertising have in common are two shared goals:
To create advertising content/copy that doesn't appear to be an ad
To create an ad that is closely aligned with people's expected experience.
The second goal is admittedly jargony as it stems from the web world, but this is what it means: when a reader picks up a magazine or newspaper, she expects to read articles. Hence, advertorial appears as articles. The format of the advertising matches the reader's expected experience in picking up the print product. The good news is that newspapers and magazines have long-established standards so readers can easily spot advertorials and be aware that they are reading "Sponsored or Paid" copy. Industry studies indicate that readers understand advertorials are promotional, but like the format just as they like to read ads. Advertorials, when measured, continue to show solid returns for advertisers.
In the digital world the concept of expected experience also is called intended or organic experience. It means creating content that, similar to advertorials, match the viewer's desired experience when they go on to a specific digital medium. And, here's where it gets complicated as some come to a digital platform to read articles, others to scan headlines, some to watch videos, and still others to search for information, or listen to music. The format of native ads, therefore, changes for each of these experiences.
The most common type of native ad is a Paid Search Ad on Google. The intended experience is for searchers to see results based on a defined search term or series of words. The organic search results bubble to the top based on a Google, Bing, or other algorithms. The native experience is to see paid ads next to the organic ads that have been strategically placed to entice the viewer interested in the searched term.
Other common examples are sponsored Tweets, and sponsored Facebook posts, but there are many others. Google, Facebook and Twitter provide "closed" native ads - meaning you can sponsor Tweets within Twitter feeds, or sponsor Facebook links within the Facebook news feed. There are also "open" native ads that run across platforms, but these are too complex to address in one blog post.
Unlike print advertorials, digital native ads are not always clearly marked. According to a 2013 e-Marketer report: "Native ad spending is growing faster than many other forms of digital advertising." And an April 2013 BIA/Kelsey study states: “Native social formats, including video, and mobile-social advertising will be the principal market growth drivers.” But the jury on native ad effectiveness is still out. Some marketers love them. Some consumers hate them.
The Walk-away: Sponsored ads work. It's why advertorials have been popular with so many advertisers for so many years. But, when it comes to the digital world, the best advice is "Buyer Beware." The medium is so new that it's not yet regulated, and it's easy to spend big bucks that literally dissipate into air. Until there's more agreement on what works and what's ethical, it's best to stay grounded in advertising techniques that have proven their mettle for all sorts of advertisers.