Beyond Banners: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

stein-headshotThis month’s column was guest authored by Steven Stein, senior vice president of sales and strategy at 33Across. Steven is incredibly knowledgeable in the new ad-tech formats area, so I’ve given him the floor to discuss the success of these new formats and the cautions we need to take to gain consumers’ respect and trust.

It’s no secret that banner ads no longer work. Consumers have even been diagnosed with “banner blindness,” and yet the banner still lives on most publishers’ sites. Does this mean the end of the online advertising industry? Of course not. New technology has emerged to keep agile with the way consumers consume content.

You are probably no stranger to in-feed ads and native advertising. Both of these ad types have been designed for today’s consumer and are often thought to be synonymous. But trust me – they’re not. If the consumer has banner blindness, then maybe our industry has been diagnosed with glaucoma. There are some items we need to address as we bring digital advertising and the publishers role to the next era.

Native Advertising

What exactly is native advertising and why is it getting so much attention from mainstream media folks, like John Oliver? Native advertising is not a new phenomenon. It’s actually been around for a long time, with sponsored content and like the example that Oliver gave, sponsored news segments. Recently, native advertising has developed into a sophisticated form of advertising that integrates into the look and feel of a publisher’s site and is contextually relevant. The contextual nature of the ad is what really sets a native ad apart from its distant cousin, the in-stream ad.

Native advertising ranges from automated content like Nativo or customized content like BuzzFeed‘s sponsored content. Companies like these were some of the first to create a paid medium designed for how people consume media. Ads are usually placed where the user’s eyeballs are looking, not avoiding, and the content is related to what they are consuming. In fact, according to a recent study done by IPG Media Lab, consumers looked at native ads 52 percent more frequently than banner ads. If we look a little further than this “eyeball” measurement, consumers also engage more with native ads, sharing them via social media platforms or via dark social (private sharing via email or chat).

So, while native advertising has made an incredible amount of advancements in digital advertising, there are a few major areas that have people like John Oliver concerned. Native advertising lacks transparency of whether content is a true journalistic effort or just an ad masquerading as a provoking piece of journalism. This does not sit well with many adversaries of native advertising, as the line between editorial and advertising becomes blurred.

In-Feed Ads

As consumers change the way they consume information, it’s only logical that advertisers have developed ways to attract consumer attention. Think of how you keep updated with your friends, family, and the news. More often than not, you reach for your mobile device to check different feeds when you have some downtime. It only makes sense that social platforms and a host of other news sites have capitalized on this behavior with the creation of in-feed ads – in other words, ads that are placed amidst the stream of content that’s in your feed.

Companies like Facebook and Twitter are seeing incredible success with their newsfeed ads. Facebook recently released that their average ad price increased 123 percent from the outstanding engagement results they’ve seen from newsfeed ads. Twitter also is seeing outstanding growth results and eMarketer predicts that it will lead in U.S. digital display ad revenue.

Will in-feed ads reign as the new go-to format of digital advertising? The jury is still out on this one. Two recurring issues that raise concerns are disruption to the consumer experience and lack context to the publisher’s page. If done incorrectly, consumers could feel the same mistrust toward publishers that may occur with native advertising.


As IAB president Randall Rothenberg put it, “Our industry needs to stop listening to itself, and get a better sense of how the real world looks at and listens to us.” So is John Oliver completely wrong about our industry or did he make a few valid points? Instead of defending our industry, we need to think carefully about what controls are set in place to provide consumers transparency and trust. Will advertising budgets lean toward in-feed ads or is native advertising the future of digital advertising?

The online publishing industry will continue to charge ahead, exploring new innovations to yield better results than what we are currently seeing today. While we may have exhausted banner ads in the top and right rails, the next new form of advertising is on the horizon – which will with its own unique set of triumphs and controversies.

Steven has over 10 of experience years in sales, most recently joining 33Across after two years at Sojern, selling the travel audience to brands, such as Disney, MGM, Hilton, Universal Studios, and Oracle. Upon building this rich roster of clients, Steven then established the endemic tourism vertical for a global territory as the general manager of Tourism Advertising. In this role, Steven worked with France, California, Texas, and Mexico tourism boards to measure online display success through the purchase funnel via online ticket transactions. Prior to Sojern, Steven served as director of West Coast Sales at ContextWeb, where he managed a team of sellers offering a contextual ad exchange solution. Steven holds a BSBA in Marketing from the University of Delaware.

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