Back in 2015, UK ad spend on native formats increased by 50%. Last year, native rose further still, accounting for 29% of the UK display market and by 2020 it’s set to drive over 73% of all paid media on mobile in the UK.
Yet there’s more to native’s ascent than a budget shift, especially if you happen to be a third-party ad server.
According to IAB guidelines, the task of assembling native ad components — images, headlines and text — will be controlled by publishers, which could spell the end of tag-based delivery. This is most prevalent in the case of in-feed native ads. But in losing the scale and efficacy of third-party ad servers, publishers are likely to find in-house distribution puts a spanner in the works for effective ad serving. Additionally, many third-party ad servers excel at building custom native executions, utilising techniques such as rich media, created for a single publication.
It’s easy to see why such a transition is enticing. Many publishers consider native ads equal to editorial content, so in-house management seems logical because it ensures total control. What’s more, the chance to align ads closely with editorial content could make them less likely to be blocked — for now — good news for publishers and advertisers.
But while appealing to publishers, these advantages don’t rival the advantages of third-party ad servers to advertisers. In addition to detailed data analysis, third-party ad servers are also vital to utilise tools such as dynamic creative optimisation (DCO), which means they won’t be redundant any time soon. So, in setting aside third-party ad servers, advertisers and publishers risk sending their campaigns back to the Stone Age.
To prevent this, a new breed of third-party ad-servers are being established that offer comprehensive native ad management in every step of a campaign. Third-party ad servers no longer deliver a tag that renders into a fully functional native ad. Instead, they deliver a packet of assets to native ad providers, who then take control of assembling the pieces into an ad. These partnerships are just one element of new third-party ad-servers.
The evolved platforms are beginning to crop up across the ecosystem and are gaining recognition as the answer to the problem of complex native ad delivery.
For a better picture of how they work, let’s explore what the next generation of third-party ad serving platforms offer:
With their advanced data capability and reach, hybrid platforms are uniquely placed to facilitate an iteration of native that publishers alone cannot support: native DCO. Almost as essential as ensuring ads complement the content that surrounds them, this kind of native targeting maximises audience engagement by tailoring ad creative itself in real-time, using a mix of demographic and behavioural insight. For example, consumers reading their favourite online publication can be targeted with ads for local supermarket discounts as they travel home from work. Beneficial for both publishers and advertisers, native DCO combines the best of context and content to make sure ads drive inspiration, and results.
Strong reporting is crucial for both advertisers and publishers: advertisers want a fast, in-depth view of performance so that campaigns can be optimised, and publishers need to deliver the data advertisers require if they’re to keep revenue flowing. And this is where the latest third-party ad platforms excel. By instantly tracking and assessing audience activity, they generate a single, event-based picture of advertising performance that can be used to adjust campaigns as they run, rather than just informing future efforts. Fundamental to this is their ability to accommodate data from any source — be it insight from a marketer’s data management platform (DMP) or an advertiser’s CSV file — which allows them to use data from multiple data streams as a basis for rapid optimisation, even in the fast-paced programmatic sphere.
Breaking down restrictions
For native to fulfill its potential, programmatic access is vital. While social platforms tend to operate in walled gardens, the majority of publishers have adopted a more open approach to native by leveraging the IAB’s OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads specification, which has made native easily accessible through a wide variety of Demand Side Platforms (DSPs). Yet applications have been limited: the specification does not facilitate connections between DSPs and third-party ad-servers. Industry leaders should consider expanding the OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads specifications to allow DSPs to point to sources further upstream, such as third-party ad-servers. This will empower DSPs to leverage third party ad servers’ sophisticated campaign logic, including dynamic creative in native ads.
With an increasingly firm grip on the mechanics of digital advertising, native is poised to revolutionise the industry — driving major changes in multiple areas, including third-party ad serving. Yet publishers and advertisers must be cautious; without the efficiency, data abilities and scale of third-party ad servers, native possibilities will be thwarted. To take digital advertising forward, it will, therefore, be essential to work with a new breed of ad-server that has evolved to become more than just a delivery mechanism.
By Andrew Bloom, general manager EMEA at Sizmek
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