The rise of the native ad remains one of the hottest topics in digital media and there is growing acknowledgement of its ability to build trust and engagement with current and prospective customers.

Brands love the way native advertising makes them appear to be part of the conversation through a less intrusive user experience that matches their own personality. But, as the line between content and advertising blurs further, native ads have also been the subject of bad press and openly accused of deceiving end-users.

If we define native advertising as paid advertising that is consistent with a particular page content, design and platform behaviour, the very first successful examples of native advertising were actually early SEM (search engine optimisation) deliveries.

Nowadays however, there is a confusing variety of so-called “native ads”. A recent whitepaper from the IAB aims to eliminate confusion by classifying them into six specific categories (with well known examples) and marketplace considerations. But put simply, where display advertising is concerned, we should differentiate between those native ads that include ‘sponsored’ content, and those that don’t.

Sponsored content ads include news-format content in publications or social networks, and these face most of the moral arguments about the dividing line between news or user generated content and advertising. These types of ads usually span across mobile and desktop properties - think of the Sponsored Tweets in Twitter, sponsored posts in Facebook or BuzzFeed's news – for these to avoid being “deceptive”, publications need to go the extra mile to ensure the quality of the content offers value, and always ensure that the ads can be easily identified as such.

Certain native ads commonly used by mobile publishers - normally apps - are not based on content per se, they simply blend with the look and feel of the mobile app where they reside. This type of native ad has been pioneered by certain social networks, communication apps and news aggregators and include, for example, the “app promotion” ads you see in your Facebook app. These are the ads that, having so far been used mostly for direct marketing campaigns, are at their best against traditional banner ads on the small screen format of mobile devices; and they provide notable advantages to consumers. They’re not intrusive and when consumers do choose to interact with them, their interaction is far more qualified and less prone to errors.

Effective ‘best practice’ native ads contain a lot of information about the product or service they offer and a clear ‘call to action’ button, minimising the chance of prospects clicking on ads by mistake, and therefore significantly reducing the rate of unintentional clicks typically associated with banners, whilst improving the user experience. The interactions they encourage are more qualified, the ads are less intrusive and there’s obvious transparency on what is advertising and what is not.

This more qualified interaction on the native ad experience generates much higher conversion rates: in our campaigns we´ve registered Click Through Rates (CTRs) that were up to 50% higher in native ads than in standard banners. Performance has also been even better when it comes to conversion rates - measuring up to 10 times higher than traditional banner ads.

Returns like this are likely to improve further as native ads become even more contextual (with an ad inviting you to a Spotify trial, as you’re reading a music article, for example). There’s also huge latent potential to combine this sort of context with creativity in native advertising of course. As audiences get used to these new formats, the line between what is advertising and what is not will become increasingly obvious to them, just as today it is obvious which of the Search results are sponsored and which ones are not.

So, to the question “are native ads good for consumers?” I would say a resounding “yes”, provided best practises are followed”. But I would answer with an even louder “yes” when we refer to the “non-content” native ads the industry has been using so far within mobile apps, due to the numerous advantages they offer over traditional banners on a smaller screen.

It is by embracing best practises in this way that brands and publishers can seize the opportunity to move with the times and engage with audiences on both a valuable and commercially beneficial basis.


By Noelia Amoedo, CEO of Mediasmart.

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