What better way is there to engage site visitors than with an interactive feature that requires consumer participation?
It's no secret that native advertising and sponsored content are among this year's biggest digital media trends. The idea of marrying branded content with editorial is hardly new, but publishers are embracing it in a big way. They experiment with format, introduce new native units, and adopt visual, "multi-sensory" techniques. Be it a feature story, a mobile module, or native video content, publishers are now offering it to brands. And brands are taking it.
Most of it assumes the form of sponsored content: articles, posts, site sections, videos, listings, and the like. What we aren't seeing quite as much of is sponsored and branded technology.
Native advertising gets its momentum from its ability to reach distracted consumers who might otherwise disregard standard online ads. According to eMarketer, the leading metric digital marketers use to measure the effectiveness of native ads is engagement. What better way to engage site visitors than with an interactive feature that requires consumer participation?
This week marks the launch of one such tool that could be a harbinger of things to come. New York-based digital media and technology company StyleCaster has announced the release of Try On! Technology Makeover Solutions, an interactive application for the fashion and beauty category built on technology acquired from DailyMakeover.com last year. The tool allows consumers to digitally try on cosmetics, hairstyles, and celebrity looks by uploading their photo and overlaying the desired products.
While the Try On! technology lives at MakeoverSolutions.com as well as with brands, retailers, and publishers (StyleCaster licenses the technology to those eager to heighten site engagement), it can also be branded and integrated into web and mobile IAB ad units, including the latest display Rising Stars formats, through StyleCaster's collaboration with advertising technology company Flite.
The idea, the company says, is to merge native with display ads at a time when brands are looking to native advertising to differentiate them online. "Banner ads are not obsolete; they are just ripe for a makeover," says David Goldberg, president of StyleCaster.
Indeed, using Try On! has little in common with the banner ad experience. StyleCaster reports that consumers spend an average of 12 minutes with the makeover tool, and that it can increase conversion to sales by 60 percent. Because the technology is personalized and interactive, brands can promote engagement and generate the data they need to make a sale down the line. Consumers, meanwhile, get a valuable tool underwritten by a brand without the hard sell.
And isn't that exactly what native advertising is meant to provide? Branded tools that foster online interaction serve a marketer's every need; they promote user engagement, deliver measureable data, afford the reach and scale of standard ad units, and put a fresh spin on staid banner ads.
StyleCaster isn't alone in its approach. The mobile industry has been reassessing native advertising and where its potency with consumers lies. Last week mobile ad network Airpush acquired Hubbl, a mobile app developer with a soft spot for native ad technology, and the two are preparing to launch what they're calling "the world's first truly native mobile ads platform." The platform is rumored to deliver content-driven native ad experiences to consumers through mobile media. Miniscule banners on mobile games aren't cutting it for brands. Highly integrated placements in play-based apps are poised to take their place.
The automotive industry has also explored this strategy with its manufacturing clients. Brands can sponsor finance and auto loan calculators on vehicle research sites, such that consumers receive an integrated ad for the promoting brand's make and model of car when it represents a good financial fit based on the information they've provided.
Could this be the future of native advertising? Will activity-based branded technology outpace written content? Effective and desirable though it may be, one can't help but wonder if native advertising might be in need of some calibration--and whether the needed tweak is in the interactivity of native ads.
Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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