What's in a Word? The Reality of Native Advertising - Part One

I recently attended the IAB’s inaugural content marketing conference focused specifically on native advertising. What came out of this? The term native advertising has been deemed bullshit (at least by the majority of panellists and attendees) - and what the industry needs is transparency, truth and a little thing called trust.

But wait, let me take you back to where it all began...sex. Teenage sex in fact, 16 year old teenage sex to be even more specific. Don’t be alarmed, it’s not what you think. Native advertising was not spawned from a teenage romance turned horribly wrong - this is just the opening line of the conference as delivered by our host Clare O’Brien, Senior Industry Programmes Manager at the IAB. To be fair, I’m sure she was testing to see if the audience was suitably caffeinated for the conference to commence - we were and it did. Her metaphor was used to provoke the idea that while everyone may be talking about native advertising, no one seems to really have a firm grasp on what it’s all about, and even fewer are truly doing it.

Kunal Gupta - from Polar, a US based advertising platform was the first speaker to take to the podium and presented some benchmark data the company has collected about global audience response to native advertising. He provided some great insight specifically into UK audiences.

The section of his presentation I found particularly interesting was his analysis of UK audiences. It seems the UK is far more accepting and engages much deeper with native content than audiences across the globe. The fact that UK content is largely still created and controlled by the publishers could have a lot to do with this high engagement rate. The quality of content remains firm, and so, it’s not surprising the trust between reader/viewer and publisher isn’t severed.

Kunal also revealed figures that support the accelerating trend of native content engagement on mobile devices, showing a 50% higher click-through rate than that of desktop.

Nick Bradley - Head of digital sales at Northern and Shell took a strong stance with his topic – ‘Is it just me or is native shit?’

The focus was on audience’s growing appetite for quality content and how publishers need to continue to tell compelling stories with content and maintain the trust of their audiences. Nick did draw attention to the power of native advertising when it’s done really well and gave some of our favorite examples in Red Bull and of course the New York Times with their ample supply of engaging and ground-breaking long form pieces and branded content extravagance.

Nick took a quote from George Parker of the Financial Times to make a poignant statement.

‘It’s all about the content.  Shit will always be shit, no matter what platform it is delivered on.’

The impression I got was that Nick isn’t convinced in any way shape or form by native, and his stats showing that 24% of people scroll native content as opposed to 74% on standard content is invariably evidence that it does still have a long way to go before it truly impacts audiences. He is however, willing to accept that if publishers are authentic, discerning, transparent and use the right tone with their audience, even sponsored content can result in a positive, valuable user experience that matches expectations.

Kenneth Suh of Unruly posed the question of how brands can win attention through their videos when interruptive ads such as pre-roll are so unpopular with audiences?

Online video is the medium of the moment with high engagement rates and publishers flocking to create their own content, but, without learning the lessons of the often negative impact of disruptive advertising formats they really aren’t taking advantage of the brand association and native ad integration that is possible.

  • Video sharing has increased 50x since 2006.

  • It’s predicted that digital video ad spend will reach 22.5B by 2017.

  • YouTube now only accounts for 24.3% of views and this includes embeds.

There is so much opportunity across platforms on different players - it’s now about advocacy, action, awareness and attention.

Anna Watkins of Guardian Labs talked us through some of the high profile work The Guardian has been doing on the native side with case studies from EE and Unilever. The success they’ve achieved with these campaigns is astonishing but the great thing is they’re going about it with the reader/viewer at the fore of the creative. She talked about how the content was collaborative with their audience, shareable and probably the most important - it was authentic.

Matt O’Neil from Unanimis spoke about native at scale which takes into account many elements including the ability for brands to be seen by consumers within the editorial space, be engaging enough for them to take notice, to function on mobile devices and appear natural within that space; and be tracked alongside other formats.

To do this, clear attribution solutions are needed and we should learn from the past that a simple click metric is not going to give you the data you need to understand performance or audience perceptions.

So far there have been mixed opinions as to how ‘native advertising’ has performed over the past year but the evidence certainly suggests there is opportunity when brands and publishers come together with audience engagement being the overarching goal. The second half of the conference was just as intriguing with panels and presentations on how human behavior dictates campaign strategies and how video is changing the fame game.

I hope you’ll check out part two where I give you the best bits of what I took from this, the very first IAB content marketing conference.

 

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