Six Best Practices to Steal from Native Advertising

We’ve gone native.

This year’s top buzzword is already a billion-dollar business. According to a recent study by the OPA, 73 percent of publishers are already offering some form of native advertising – ads that integrate directly into the design of the publisher’s site, and are often produced by or in conjunction with the advertiser and run in the editorial stream. As ClickZ reported in June, native ad spending in 2012 reached $1.63 billion, on track to increase to $2.85 billion by 2014.

That’s no joke.

But before you buy a sponsored tweet, work with Buzzfeed to create a sponsored post, or partner with your favorite blog to do a set of branded articles, let’s step back and examine what the growth in native advertising can teach us about digital marketing as a whole.

Here are six lessons we can learn from the explosive growth in native advertising –and apply to whatever marketing we do, native or not:

1. Treat your ads like content.

We’ve been saying this for years, but on some level, the best ads – “native” or not – work as content. They make you feel something, they’re additive (not disruptive) to the experience, and they help connect you with the brand. Marketers are great storytellers, and the arrival of new platforms simply provides more tools for telling great stories. Just this week, Google ran a B2B ad supporting its Advertising Week presence championing this idea: they’re calling it “tradigital,” a traditional approach using digital tools.

1.   2. Content marketing works.

Whether you’re buying sponsored tweets and posts or just using social platforms to grow your audience organically, connecting with your audience through content is proving to be a very a good idea.  Eight in 10 consumers would rather connect with a brand through content than through an ad, according to Hanley Wood.

What’s more, native ads perform remarkably well.  Recent studies show native ads are registering 9 percent higher lift for brand affinity and 19 percent higher lift for purchase intent than traditional banners, and promoted tweets have CTRs that blow banners’ out of the water.  So whether you “go native” or stay on the sidelines, think about doubling down on your content strategy.

1.      3. Know your environment.

Seven years ago, in the early days of YouTube, our team applauded Lionsgate when they posted this video for Saw III. For the first time, a marketer broke the fourth wall and spoke to the viewer directly, emulating the way millions of vloggers connected with their YouTube audience.

So if you’re going to do a sponsored post of Buzzfeed, use the .gif list format that works; if you’re doing a sponsored tweet, include relevant hashtags and prompt your audience to retweet, follow, and direct message.  Or take a page from Mentos’ playbook: their recent print ad reads “A breath mint you may actually post a picture of,” and prompts consumers to post photos to Instagram, even suggesting the preferred filter to capture Mentos’ glow.


 4. Fish where the fish are.

Another truism native advertising is helping prove: to engage your audience, you need to be where your audience is. That goes for choice of platform (nearly 40 percent of online time is now spent on mobile devices) and as well as choice of site (27 percent of time spent is on social networks).


But now, it’s also helping inform where we place our messages within the site itself. Facebook reports that 40 percent of its users’ time is spent within the Newsfeed, so it’s only natural that if I want to connect with my audience on Facebook, I put my message in the Newsfeed.  How?  I can partner with vendors who are certified to post directly to the Newsfeed, or I can focus on developing branded content engaging enough that my audience will want to interact with it and subscribe to my pages and channels.

5. Custom is the new standard.

For those of you in the media business, you’ll know what I’m talking about – clients are demanding more custom placements and packages than ever before.  Everyone wants out-of-the-box thinking, innovative creative, delivered in new ways… for a low, low cost.  Native advertising helps put structure around the desire for custom content, helping advertisers get closer to the content and to their target audience. It also makes custom creative scalable, as most publishers now have whole teams dedicated to helping your brand get its message right.

6.   Be honest. 

In the words of Robin Thicke, “I hate these blurred lines.” While getting closer to the content is great for advertisers, 86 percent of consumers feel misled by videos that appear to be actual content, and more than one in five publishers polled in the OPA study didn’t think clear delineation of ad content was necessary.

We’re in the business of marketing, not of tricking consumers into interacting with our brands.  Magazines have long had rules governing the appearance of advertorials in their pages, but in the digital realm, we’re still in early days.  While the jury’s out on how we’ll eventually come to identify native ads for consumers, we can all agree that the Scientology debacle isn’t the way the go.


So as you start to experiment with native advertising, use the sniff test.  Ask how it will appear and how it will be delivered.  Show the mocks to a friend outside the “digerati” – do they understand they’re looking at branded content? After all, consumer trust is like a mirror – once broken, you can’t look at it the same way again.

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