Native advertising touches upon many different aspects of the existing media landscape. It’s disrupting, blurring and amalgamating many product sets; creating hybrid models that are difficult to categorise, constantly influx and a challenge to pin down. A bit like the digital industry as a whole, don’t you think? Which is yet another reason why native advertising is the go-to advertising medium for digital.
It’s the impetuous, plucky start-up ad medium that tears up the rulebook, seeks out disruption and challenges existing ways of doing business. Its fluidity means it can adapt to the changing needs of digital. It also means that there is almost a Velcro-like ability for different terms, categories and sub-categories that exist in the wider digital world to be applied to native advertising, too. This can and does cause considerable confusion.
If you look at any digital sector, you’ll see subtle differences and product categories erupting, time and time again. It’s an indicator of a maturing market sector when you see these categories and sub-categories bubble up within your own category of digital.
These phrases can be confusing for anyone new that wants to gain a clear overview of the native advertising space. If you are confused, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone.
Native advertising categories and sub-categories
This is what is happening within the native advertising sector today. We have popular terms such as branded content, content partnerships, in-feed distribution, native display, in-stream native, in-ad native, true native, premium native, content recommendation, content discovery, content widgets and many more phrases surfacing. Some have different, subtle differences, others mean the same thing.
These phrases can be confusing for anyone new that wants to gain a clear overview of the native advertising space. If you are confused, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone. For a while now, native advertising has been a catch-all term.
If people don’t understand native advertising properly – how can they sell it to their clients, buy it with confidence, maintain standards and nurture its growth?
Part of the reason behind why I wrote a book on native advertising – Native Advertising: The Essential Guide – was to try and cut through a lot of the ‘noise’ that surrounds native advertising at present; a simple Google search around native advertising can leave the uninitiated with more questions than answers.
I would argue that the vast majority of people when they think of native advertising, think of either one of these three categories, or social media advertising.
The main categories of native advertising everyone needs to understand
If we set aside the IAB work on native advertising categorization that has done much to add some clarity to the burgeoning native advertising space – and if we leave Social Media ads out of the equation, too – there are just three main native advertising categories:
- Branded Content/Publisher Partnerships
- In-feed Native Distribution/Native Display
- Content Recommendation/Content Discovery
I would argue that the vast majority of people when they think of native advertising, think of either one of these three categories, or social media advertising. They may not know the correct descriptions – or use different terms to describe them – but this is what they are thinking of. I’d guess this is what you are thinking, too.
The majority of news stories, blog posts and thought-leadership you see with the term native advertising included surrounds these main categories or definitions of native.
At its core this form of native advertising involves a publisher creating a bespoke piece of content for a brand that is in-keeping with the publisher’s audience expectations and tone of voice.
1. Branded content publisher partnerships
This is a burgeoning native advertising sector. It goes under myriad different names – the IAB UK defines it, for example, as publisher hosted and/or made. Others, including many publishers themselves, will call it branded content, or partner content, or publisher partnered content, or branded partner publisher content: the list goes on and on. For simplicity, I’ve referred to it here as Branded Content Publisher Partnership.
Why? Mainly because this type of native advertising – the type championed by the likes of BuzzFeed, The New York Times, Mashable, Quartz, The Atlantic, The Telegraph, The Independent and Germany’s Burda Forward, to name just a few – is always publisher led.
At its core this form of native advertising involves a publisher creating a bespoke piece of content for a brand that is in-keeping with the publisher’s audience expectations and tone of voice. This native advertising format is, essentially, a partnership between one specific publisher and one specific advertiser.
The content that is created is created more often than not by the publisher – increasingly by highly sophisticated internal commercial content teams, or studios – to ensure it meets specific audience expectations. This native content is then published and distributed across this specific publication. The advertising brand has sign off on the proposal and the concept; but it’s the publisher that leads the creative build and delivery.
When a piece of publisher partnership native advertising is published, the preview to the advert will typically sit across a native advertising unit on the publication’s website.
Brand and Publisher Partnership
Typically, this type of native advertising is bought either by a brand direct with the publisher, for example, going direct to the New York Times; or a brand’s digital agency contacting the publisher on the brand’s behalf.
The key thing to remember is that they are point to point relationships. The booking is by agreed spend, and is insertion order based, normally with a hefty lump set aside for creating the actual native content itself. In addition to the publishing of that content on a publication’s website and/or other digital assets.
When a piece of publisher partnership native advertising is published, the preview to the advert will typically sit across a native advertising unit on the publication’s website; say a home page, category page, or article page.
The preview normally looks like the preview of any other form of content on the site – it will have a title, a description and a thumbnail, for example. But it will also carry some labelling so that readers know that the content is actually advertising. Most publisher partnership created content is labelled with disclosure along the lines of ‘Sponsored by,’ or ‘Promoted by’, or variations of this.
Adherents argue that this Publisher Partnership style of native advertising is the only real form of native advertising that should exist because you are ensuring that the advert itself sits, looks and feels like the surrounding editorial of the website in which it sits.
But crucially the native advert also speaks in the same language, tone and content-style of the other content around it because it is created by experts from those publications, too, who are adept in creating content in the right tone of voice for the audiences of these publications.
Also known as: Brand Content, Ad Partnership, True Native, Premium Native
From inauspicious beginnings, this category of native advertising is now set to run billions in ad revenue annually.
2. In-feed native distribution / Native display
This category of native advertising is perhaps the area that needs the greater clarification of all within the category groupings. It’s the style of native advertising that is all-too-easy to dismiss or lump into other categories. Or not fully understand.
In the interests of full disclosure, this is the category where my business, Adyoulike, sits. This is the category I, therefore, know best. In fact, alongside my colleagues and a handful of people working for competitors, it’s a native category I’ve helped create. Bit by bit, publisher by publisher, integrating new native advertising units across the publishing landscape of Europe, the US and the world over.
From inauspicious beginnings, this category of native advertising is now set to run billions in ad revenue annually. It’s already a key part of the digital revenues of some of the biggest publishing groups in the world. It’s for this reason that in-feed native distribution needs to sit in its own category, separated from Social Media native advertising and the other main native ad formats.
They are bespoke native advertising units that seamlessly fit into the publications on which they appear.
What is in-feed native distribution?
When I’m asked to explain to people who do not work in media what I do, I normally go in with my basic elevator pitch, which is something like this:
“My business run Facebook-style adverts across a network of publisher websites. The adverts are typically promoting interesting content – editorial or video. The adverts are normally positioned directly in-feed and will run across all devices; mobile, desktop and tablet.”
That’s my basic summary. I typically always lead with the Facebook-style element because almost everyone on the planet is familiar with what a Facebook advert looks like. And in essence, that’s what this category of native advertising does: it replicates the advertising style and utilizes the same assets as social media advertising, but moves it to the direct ‘open web’ publisher environment. They are bespoke native advertising units that seamlessly fit into the publications on which they appear – and can usually run all types of content asset – editorial, video and more.
One of the other benefits many brands like about in-feed native units is the environment in which the ad units themselves are located.
Building Scale: Technology and Innovation
In-feed Native Distribution is geared for scale. Advertisers are predominantly large media agencies or their trade desk partners and Demand Side Platforms (DSPs).
It’s also the main category of native advertising that is programmatically traded. This is significant because as programmatic trading grows ever more prevalent, there is only one way adspend through these in-feed native ad units is going to go. Research from BI Insider published in 2016 predicted that native ads in-feed will make up the bulk of native ad revenue from 2016-2021. The report estimates it to be worth $36B in the US alone.
Another significant point to note is that the technology platforms in this in-feed category continue to be responsible for the technological innovations in native advertising today. It is these businesses that have developed the programmatic native advertising landscape; effectively laying the ‘pipes’ and undertaking a lot of the behind-the-scenes plumbing necessary to connect native advertising units to the wider programmatic advertising demand market.
It’s also these businesses that have helped transition many popular advertising formats from social media platforms – autoplay in-feed video, for example – and made them easily accessible for publishers to monetize and use for themselves.
It’s these businesses that continue to test and launch new products – such as artificial intelligence – to continue to improve the native advertising product capability. Increasingly too, as more publishers recognise the value of partnering with specific native technologies, it is these platforms that power many Publisher Partnership native advertising campaigns, too, as they are increasingly the go-to native ‘ad-servers’ and native content management systems being used by leading publishers, too.
One of the other benefits many brands like about in-feed native units is the environment in which the ad units themselves are located. More often than not an in-feed native ad unit on a publisher website is a standalone unit – it is not surrounded by any other native ad units. All around it, in the feed, is editorial content.
Also known as: In-stream native advertising, native display, programmatic native.
Content recommendation offers huge scale for marketers. You can pay just a few cents per click for a website visit, and have your content shared across thousands of websites.
3. Content Recommendation / Content discovery
Content recommendation widgets are incredibly successful forms of native advertising. If you are not familiar with the phrase, you almost certainly will be familiar with the product. Visit any leading news website, read to the bottom of the article and more often than not you’ll see a box of three, or six, or sometimes more, ‘Promoted Stories’ or ‘Related Content’ style articles.
The boxes will usually carry an image and an enticing headline. When you click on the advert you’ll be taken through to a third party website – often the site of another publisher, where you’ll be encouraged to read the article and click through to additional content onsite.
Content recommendation offers huge scale for marketers. You can pay just a few cents per click for a website visit, and have your content shared across thousands of websites. You only pay for the visit. It is usually not traded programmatically – but this is changing, and is typically operated via self-serve dashboards that you can load content and budgets into easily and effectively.
Some of the stats around content recommendation are very impressive. Outbrain claims that Content Recommendation visitors to a page view 100% more pages per session than those coming from search engines and 165% more pages per session than those coming to the content from social media. In terms of bounce rate, Content Recommendation is 23% less likely to bounce than search traffic and 32% less likely to bounce than social traffic.
The argument goes that as content recommendation is normally run at the foot of content articles – those reading and clicking through to more content are already in ‘content consumption’ mode. So they are likely to read and consume the content promoted to them more.
Savvy marketers and publishers use content recommendation units to promote content to a wide audience – and to drive website visitors to their websites. Over the last few years or so this native ad format has become a crucial part of most marketer’s toolkits. Why? Because it has huge scale, is affordable and easy to set up and monitor. If used properly it can compliment your wider digital marketing activity and be a valued part of your arsenal in distributing good quality content, at scale.
Also known as: Content Discovery, Content Rec, Content Widgets