As an online marketer, you have come across this new format time and time again. People continue to struggle to define this format since it is a burgeoning industry without many rules and guidelines. We will describe why we think this new term has surfaced and taken the online advertising world by storm. This is by no means a complete guide for content marketers, but aims to discuss why the native advertising industry exists and the concerns around using this format for marketers. At Cooperatize, we work to simplify the native advertising landscape for marketers.

The Need for Native

In the digital advertising landscape, marketers are facing increased competition and noise in the paid search, display, mobile, and social arenas. Generating awareness and affinity through digital engagement is difficult when they only have 140 characters in a Tweet, 25 characters in a Google AdWords headline, or 62,500 pixels in a 250×250 display ad to explain the history and mission of the brand. Focusing on the “Why” versus the “What” allows you to go deeper beyond the products and services your company offers. Native advertising allows brands to tell the “Why” story through custom editorial and integrations with the media outlet to highly engaged readers.

Telling a story is at the heart of why your business hires a public relations agency. PR agencies help you define your brand identity, and how you are portrayed to your customers and society. We saw a slight shift in the PR model when Vocus’ “Help a Reporter Out” marketplace appeared and flipped the PR model on its head by having the media outlets themselves indicate their demand for a certain type of story. There was still an element of luck with this model, though:

  • What if the media outlet didn’t like your brand image?
  • What if they happened to have other stories that they wanted to publish and pushed you back in their editorial calendar?
  • What if the story they published was not an accurate reflection of your business?

One of the major benefits of native advertising is control over your message. Instead of worrying about IF your story will be told under the timeline you want, you can focus more on building the story you want to be told on various media outlets.

Why Native Advertising’s Goals Differ from Traditional Online Advertising

1) The currency of native advertising is an ‘emotional’ impression.

Native advertising comes in many different flavors and formats. If your goal is to generate sales and calculate ROI on your digital advertising investment, native advertising is not for you. If generating the maximum number of impressions is your goal, existing digital advertising platforms allow you to optimize your budget to maximize eyeballs, typically to the detriment of your targeting: the whom and where the ad appears.

Native advertisements integrate your brand’s story intimately with the publisher. It is difficult to place a dollar amount on the value and awareness created when an influential publisher talks about your brand and can emotionally connect with their readers.

2) Native advertising relies on powerful storytelling to attract the reader.

Your brand needs to be willing to get into the reasons behind why your brand exists and touch the reader on an intrinsic and emotional level. Brands need to be able to trust the publishers to tell their story accurately and effectively to their audience.

Native advertising is a collaborative effort between the brand and the publisher. Brands provide their story and content while publishers determine the best way to form the narrative. Since the publisher shapes the story, the expected engagement increases both online and offline. By offering a fuller story from various perspectives, brands become humanized and can expect a higher recall rate and brand affinity versus traditional “snapshot” advertising. This collaborative story becomes an “evergreen” piece that is useful for both the brand and the publisher.

3) The story should not always be about your brand.

This sounds counterintuitive to traditional marketing, but let me explain. Traditional marketing stresses the “4 P’s” of bringing your product to market: product, place, price, and promotion. This framework for advertising focuses solely on your brand and the products and you offer. However, in order to build a strong emotional story with native advertising, brands need to trust that the publisher knows how to tell the story that will resonate with the target audience; sometimes the story is not necessarily about the brand.

This concept is best illustrated through a Dell sponsored New York Times native ad unit. The “advertising” Dell published in the New York Times centered on the issues Millennials face in the workplace. This story has little to do with Dell’s core business of computer technology, but rather associates Dell with an important cultural trend that allows Millenials to see Dell from a different perspective.

Dangers of Using Native Advertising Incorrectly

1) Placement on irrelevant blogs and media outlets.

Irrelevance is the top problem publishers face when deciding how to implement native advertising opportunities on their blog or outlet. When publishers are approached by brands directly, 90% of the opportunities do not make sense for their audience. Having a clear understanding of your target audience and who would benefit most from your brand’s story is essential to making native advertising work effectively.

2) Masking native ads as editorial content versus advertising.

Brands want to be mentioned organically in the news and press. However, attempting to make your brand’s sponsored content appear as the publisher’s editorial content can get your brand into a lot of trouble. The FTC started investigating this deceptive practice late last year, and determined that publishers must mark paid content as “sponsored,” links in the content must be tagged with a “nofollow,” attribute, and brands are urged to follow the other policies in the FTC Online Advertising Disclosure Guidelines.

3) Not all digital advertising can be measured by the click through.

While there are ways you can attempt to track the effectiveness of native advertising with click-through rates and impressions, comparing your native ad performance with your traditional search engine campaigns can lead to a misrepresentation of native advertising’s effectiveness. With search engine ads, for instance, you can quickly see how effective your advertising is after a month, a week, and even a day. Based on the performance of your ads, you can quickly adjust keywords and bids to improve your return on investment.

With native advertising, your ad may receive only a fraction of the clicks that your search engine ads receive in the same time frame. Further, while there is a higher initial investment with native advertising, the longevity of the ad is extended and for some publishers lives in perpetuity. In our experience, our format provides a click through rate lower than AdWords and a bit higher than AdSense; as time goes on the per click rate decreases.

Long form native advertising also creates awareness over a long period of time both online and offline, so that when the consumer is ready to purchase, your brand is lodged within the consideration set.

Frameworks Exist to Define Native Advertising

The framework established by the IAB is the best resource for brands that want to understand the different types of native ad units currently available. The one common theme between all the ad units is that clear disclosure must be made as to when content is sponsored on the blog or media outlet. In order to select the best native ad format, a brand needs to understand what their high-level goals are for their native campaigns as well as any technical constraints they might have:

  • Are you looking to simply sales of your product?
  • Do you want to generate brand awareness?
  • Is your product or service better suited for a promoted listing or in-feed unit?
  • Do you want to tell the narrative of your brand or provide a “snapshot” of it?
  • Are you ok with the publisher not hosting the full content?

We believe that long-form content is the best native ad format since it allows the brand to tell the full story about who they are, what they do, and why you should care. The in-feed format, recommendation widgets, and certain in-ad units help with getting targeted consumers to discover and engage with your content. This content is usually not hosted on the publisher’s site and therefore requires the reader to click to another page to read the full story.

With Cooperatize, the content appears in full right on the publisher’s blog, so the reader can consume your content seamlessly. In the context of the IAB’s Playbook, this would be considered a Custom/Can’t Be Contained format since each placement is unique to the publisher posting the story.