Between interactive sponsored features on websites and the rise of the Visual Web, interactive native ads are poised to make big moves in the digital marketing space.
Internet marketing has always been about interactivity. Our industry is governed by the IAB - the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Before we dubbed our kind of advertising digital, we referred to it as interactive - even when it wasn't particularly "interactive" at all. It's hardly surprising, then, that interactivity would eventually make its way to native ads.
Last year we saw the emergence of interactive apps that compounded traditional online advertising with content marketing to create an immersive brand experience embedded on third-party sites. Earlier this month, Digiday reported on BuzzFeed's beer-branded interactive Summer To-Do Calendar, along with a timely Rogaine-sponsored feature that invited readers to rank the biggest World Cup upsets.
Spend a few minutes on HuffPost Partner Studio, The Huffington Post's hub for its custom native ads, and you'll find features like "Which Roadtrip Movie Character Are You?", created for the 2014 Toyota Highlander. The article invites readers to participate in a survey through a quiz widget that incorporates Tumblr-sourced animated GIFs.
These efforts demonstrate an understanding of the degree to which interactivity can influence online shares. They also underscore the importance of standing out. Studies show that consumers view native ads 53 percent more than traditional banners, and that the time they spend looking at these sponsored stories rivals that of original editorial content. But native advertisers whose content is integrated into a publisher's site face the same issues that confront all digital marketers. The Web is swamped with content, regardless of format. And everyone is trying to find a way to stand out.
Some publishers are taking interactivity a step further to create paid placements that mirror the most popular of interactive features - those that, just months after launch, are already cemented in infamy. In May, Wired released a custom native ad for Netflix that was immediately likened to The New York Times' "Snow Fall." TV Got Better has it all: the polish and wonder of an interactive feature on a major newspaper site, the interesting and informative content of a good native ad, and interactivity in the form of polls and user-initiated graphics similar to what you might find in a rich media banner. The story is specific to Netflix, but it's also perfectly at home on Wired.com. For the viewer, ads like this one are perceived as high-quality content. For the parties involved in creating and distributing them they are utterly symbiotic, serving the advertiser and the publisher in kind.
A year ago, the Online Publishers Association surveyed its member companies about their clients' attitude toward native ads. The organization found that 81 percent of marketers use native ads to increase consumer engagement with their brand. Fifty-seven percent consider engagement - or time spent with a native ad - the most important metric for measuring campaign impact.
With the desire for engagement outranking site traffic and even social media shares, interactivity becomes a critical feature of native ads. The impetus for incorporating it into more campaigns, however, might stem from something else. Between the interactive features dressing up sites like The Times, Scientific American, and The Guardian, and the rise of the Visual Web, consumers are anticipating something big. Never before have they had at their disposal so much multimedia content, and never before have their expectations been propelled so high. Every modern media buy is a foray into maximum engagement, and native ads are no exception.
That's a very good thing indeed.
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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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