Adapting to the Evolution of Native Ads

Native advertising is one of the biggest buzzwords of 2013. Whether it’s sponsored stories on Facebook, promoted pins on Pinterest, or sponsored content on Buzzfeed, the possibilities for native advertising seem endless.

With Buzzfeed’s announcement that it will run 500 to 600 branded content campaigns in 2014, the marketing tactic is only going to gain popularity with other publications.

But how can marketers understand and take advantage of the trend?

Breaking down the buzz

Like print advertorials, online native ads are specifically designed to appear in the same manner as organic content. Native ads began on social media, and have now infiltrated into online news publications and other websites.

When mobile leapt onto the scene, traditional banner ads and sidebar advertising became less effective. But native ads typically perform better because images or articles are strategically placed among organic content.

Consumers are comfortable engaging with items in their newsfeeds on social media or on publications’ websites. Although consumers see several articles, Facebook posts, or tweets with tiny “promoted” or “sponsored” logos, they’ll still engage with the content.

These methods have been around in traditional advertising years, but marketers are taking several creative approaches to conquering native advertising online.

The history of native ads

Although the term “native ads” was christened recently, the technique of native advertising has existed longer than many marketers realize.

One of the first and most cited examples of native advertising was the Jell-O Cookbook, which conveniently placed Jell-O recipes in a general cookbook, where (not surprisingly) its target audience was looking for recipes. Jell-O was able to put its branding in front of its ideal audience.

If Jell-O had tried to insert an ad for its recipes in, say, The Wall Street Journal, it would have stuck out as an ad because it differentiated from The Wall Street Journal‘s usual content. Jell-O’s cookbook approach is being applied widely around the Web today using native advertising.

The rise in content as an ad

Facebook Ads Manager was one of the first social platforms to allow brands to put their message in front of their target audience. The ads are integrated directly into consumers’ newsfeeds, and see a click-through rate that’s 21 times greater than standard Web retargeting ads, according to an AdRoll study.

When brand messages are camouflaged in consumers’ newsfeeds—either as photos or articles—they appear in the same manner as organic, user-generated content. Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram have quickly followed Facebook’s lead to focus more on integrating brand ads seamlessly into consumers’ social feeds.

BuzzFeed and Mashable are examples of publications that integrated native advertising with the editorial content early on. Even more traditional publications—such as The New York Times—have announced that they’re rolling out native ads in the coming months.

Knowing your audience: key to successful native ads

The key to success in native advertising is to know what your audience wants. The rise of the GIFs and “listicles” has led to a revolution for content marketing because it turned photos into a form of branded content. But a sponsored article on BuzzFeed would be completely different than one for a business publication.

To interest consumers with native ads, the sponsored content must be as interesting—if not more so—than the content a consumer typically finds on the site.

And with the holidays upon us, marketers need new methods to differentiate their brand and break through the clutter. Testing a native ad on a social network or trying a native news article is a new way to stand out during November and December.

Whether a brand is promoting a specific product or creating awareness, the holiday season is the time to make those connections with consumers—and native ads a unique way to spark those relationships.

Sean Strother is cofounder of Tagkast

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