Content Marketing, Native Advertising, and the Limits of Programmatic

Content marketing is generally understood as the creation and distribution of any type of media by a brand. It has been hot for a while now, and it’s only getting hotter. According to Contently, 54 percent of consumers would consider ending a relationship with a retailer that fails to directly deliver tailor-made, relevant content. In other words, creating content is no longer an option for major brands. It’s a must.

It’s no surprise, then, that quite a few companies are now focused on building a bridge between content marketing and the industry’s other hot trend, programmatic marketing – the practice of using data to automatically target messages to users who are most likely to respond. The big question is whether such a bridge is possible or whether content marketing and programmatic will remain forever apart as two separate but thriving worlds.

This question has been asked a lot in recent years, and, at first glance, the answer isn’t immediately obvious. But the real challenge in answering questions about programmatic and content marketing emerges from the confusing terminology that gets thrown around whenever the topics come up. Indeed, once the terminology is cleared up, the relationship between content marketing and programmatic no longer seems very confusing at all.

So, let’s start with some clarifications. Branded articles, blogs, social updates, videos, songs, etc. are all forms of content marketing. Brands might place such content on their own sites and social media pages or buy an audience for their content on specific publisher sites.

Native advertising, by contrast, is advertising that’s designed to be integrated into a specific site or platform. So, if a brand is running ads through Facebook’s News Feed placements, that’s native advertising on Facebook because the ads are tightly integrated into Facebook. By contrast, if a brand creates a video and simply posts it on its own Facebook page, that’s content marketing.

As we’ve argued before, true native advertising can’t easily go programmatic or scale for the simple reason that, by definition, native advertising is meant to be integrated into a single, unique site.

But content marketing can go programmatic and can scale – just look at the rise of sponsored content stories across all major publishers for example. So, the question many people are really asking when they wonder about content marketing going programmatic is this: Can written content, branded images, social updates, blog posts, etc. go truly programmatic?

The answer, we now know, is yes. Several companies are already experimenting with a mix of content marketing and programmatic. What do they have in common? They allow marketers to bid on content units the same way real-time bidding (RTB) marketplaces operate for display for advertising. Those content units look much more like the images publishers run than traditional display banners.

If the companies are getting a lot of attention, it’s because there’s so much great potential in bringing these two powerful marketing techniques together.

No, programmatic content marketing won’t be truly native advertising for the primary reason that they will be integrated into several sites. But it will be yet another sign that the power of programmatic is changing digital advertising as we know it.