Native Advertising And The Trouble It Will Cause

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It turns out that trying to standardize advertising sizes and formats may have been a bad idea for online advertising.

We used to have major challenges with delivering online advertising. We had limitations when it came to the pipe (the speed with which a webpage would load) and this forced us – as a marketing industry – to figure out some semblance of unity across publishers and agencies. It was (and still remains) one of the main thrusts of an organization like the IAB – Interactive Advertising Bureau. Publishers and agencies that are members of the organization all agree to follow their rules of standardization with the implicit goal of delivering a great result for consumers and an equal footing for publishers.

My, how things change in such a short while.

There’s no need to rehash the trouble with banner advertising. Current CPM rates are low and the ability to interact with the ads has fallen off of the cliff. Do yourself a favor and don’t even bother to look at what the average clickthrough rate is on this type of advertising. In the meantime, the pure definition of online advertising expands into everything from search engine marketing, email marketing, affiliate marketing and beyond. Couple that with the success of online channels like Twitter and Pinterest and you soon start to realize that the standardized display advertising models don’t even figure into these experiences.

Enter native advertising.

It finally has a name. For years, I have been blogging about the Web’s inability to deliver one solution that could be unified under the term, "advertising." I would argue that the challenge online advertising faces is that brands and their agencies have to constantly create new types of creative for each type of channel. You would never run the same ad on YouTube as you would on Facebook as you would on Twitter as you would on Google as you would on the site of The New York Times. Beyond that, the power of the real-time Web and analytics forces these same brands to optimize, tweak and iterate on the fly. An ad can now be a text link, a creative box, an online video and much more. Enter "native advertising." If I had to choose a close second to the big buzzwords being thrown around the digital marketing space (beyond "big data"), it would have to be "native advertising." Twitter has its own native advertising platform (Promoted Tweets), as does Google (AdWords), as does Facebook and on and on. DigiDay ran a fascinating article yesterday titled, The Atlantic Tries Native Ads, that highlights this growing trend and the many challenges that brands will face moving forward.

What is a brand to do?

Advertising is hard, hard work. Now, the publishers are really going to put brands to the test. The game of sending over the creative and running it on a plethora of spaces could quickly become a thing of the past or a game of diminishing returns as more and more online publishers realize that curated and original content wrapped in a brand performs at a much higher level. The Atlantic are not the first ones to realize the power of native advertising. The challenge, as DigiDay so saliently points out, is the massive cost hat will be incurred for the brands that want to actively participate in native advertising. Think of it this way: do you think that The Atlantic and The Huffington Post will both agree to run the same type of advertising or native advertising across both publishing platforms? I don’t. Each one will want something unique and creative to their respective spaces.

Here’s the challenge: native advertising is probably the best thing to happen to digital advertising… it’s also going to be hardest hill for brands to climb. What do you think?


  1. Genuine. When there are so many channels you have to be genuine. Otherwise brands will be caught out. This is the transparency that branding and marketing on the web is driving. The customer engagement across these channels also means that any slight of hand will be pounced on. So without standardisation you need to be genuine in order to ensure your message is consistent across all channels.

  2. As I try to find the words to articulate my opinion on this I’m stymied by the diversity of the mitigating factors and attitudes among the brands I’ve both worked with and tried to work with. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to the gating factors that enable a brand to move with purpose into uncharted (or hardky charted) territory.
    Consequently, I see one obvious gating factor – budget – driving companies to certain types of online advertising. I see the challange resifing not in the “IF” but in the “WHAT” of their campaigns, because no matter how many different native campaigns they might require, eventually the budget well’s gonna run dry.

  3. Where’s the hill? This is a great opportunity for major advertisers to optimise the performance of their integrated campaigns. A brand is more than the design elements that dominate traditional media; tone, keywords, taglines, value propositions, product names, and other textual cues are also “branding elements”, and these native formats will benefit those who have a true brand (not just visual) identity. Very exciting stuff – thanks for the thought-provoking post, Mitch!

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