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To begin I'm going to repeat a headline I read last week: 'Facebook is more popular for native advertising than Twitter'.

This headline derives from Hexagram’s latest report on native advertising. The report elaborates: Facebook is the third most-popular channel for native advertising, with Twitter still lagging far behind. 

However… if you’re anything like me, you might not know what native advertising actually is, and all of the above information may just merge into the background of data white noise.

As a relative newcomer to the digital marketing world, I've decided to begin a series of 'beginner's guides' to uncover what is meant by certain terms, trends and technological advances in digital; being both a travel guide and a personal investigation.

So if you're tired of being the person nodding and smiling at the back of the room, feeling increasingly powerless in the face of overwhelming jargon, come with me and we'll embark on a voyage of discovery together.

Don't worry, you don't have to talk to me or look me in the eye, you just have to sit there.

Here are some further juicy stats found in the report…

  • 62% of publishers currently offer native advertising, followed by 41% of brands and 34% of agencies. 
  • 66% of brands say they create their own content for native ads.
  • The most popular forms of native advertising are blog posts, accounting for 65%. With articles at 63% and Facebook at 56%.
  • Brands are most likely to use Facebook to publish native advertising.

If that's not enough, here’s a graph:

Those are some hardcore, interesting stats, and here is where many of you will stop reading. 

What is Native Advertising?

It’s a method of advertising which seeks to provide content in the context of the user’s experience.

Thanks Wikipedia!

Let’s be a proper journalist though and check a second source:

Sharethrough’s CEO Dan Greenberg says that Native Advertising is:

a form of media that’s built into the actual visual design and where the ads are part of the content.

Great. They back each other up and seem simple enough. In fact, native advertising sounds to me like the old advertorials you used to find in print magazines.

It would appear that advertorials are still around.

Publishers of advertorials stress that these ads are not meant to trick the reader. The balance between creating paid content that fits into the house-style of the magazine and it being, by its very definition, an advert is a tricky accomplishment. 

The advertorial above clearly says ‘promotion’ in the top right corner. It still however doesn’t stop a lot of people from reading halfway through and getting annoyed that they were actually reading an advert all along.

Is this worse than a more obvious ad, which you can choose to ignore at your own will? This was in music magazine Mojo, so it should be pretty obvious that this is an advert just by virtue of the fact it's about a car. The competition to see indie-landfill band The Enemy is tenuous is best.

Anyway, I digress. We haven’t even got to online yet.

Further definitions of native advertising

Some people in the digital industry believe that native advertising is the communication that occurs between brands and followers on a social media site.

This seems a bit nebulous. If some brands are using their Twitter account as a customer service channel, then surely it’s no different to a customer helpline. A customer helpline certainly isn’t a method of advertising.

Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer defines native advertising as "advertising that takes advantage of a platform in the ways consumers are actually using it". For instance Promoted Tweets on Twitter, Sponsored Stories on Facebook. 

Here on my timeline, reed.co.uk are gently hinting that I should be looking for a new job via a Promoted Tweet...

On Facebook here's a Sponsored Story...

This is a targeted ad on the right hand side of the page. Someone, somewhere knows I’ve just bought an engagement ring and therefore will need wedding rings in the near future.

Little do they know that my most pressing concern is portaloo hire.

Here’s a suggested post within my news feed…

It looks just like every other post or status update on my timeline, however it’s a paid for piece of advertising that emulates the Facebook experience.

The advertiser’s intent is for native ads to be more transparent than magazine advertorials. However it’s also the intention to make the advert feel less intrusive and thus increase the chance that a user will click on it. Again, it’s a delicate balance.

Pinterest has started trialling a similar method with its Promoted Pins.

Working much like regular pins, these have a special promoted label.

Pinterest has promised to keep these tasteful and transparent with clear ‘promoted’ labelling, and remain relevant to the user.

To complicate matters further, there are two types of Native Advertising: closed and open

Closed

This refers to brands creating content or profiles within an existing platform – Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest – and then promoting its own content using the same look and feel of the respective platform.

This is all done manually within the given channel’s framework. 

Open

Quite simply, and somewhat obviously, this is the opposite of ‘closed’. 

Here content is created by a brand outside of any existing framework. That content is then distributed via a third-party across multiple platforms. This third-party adapts the content to the various styles and formats of whatever platform it has been published on.

There are many different companies that offer this service, and most offer cross-device, cross-publication scale and control.

Open native advertising offers a level of automation that closed does not.

Problems...

Here are the problems or challenges that I can see in adopting native advertising.

With open native advertising, the content is identical whether it appears on Facebook, Twitter or any other platform or website. There is little targeting or thought as to who the audience is. Closed certainly offers more advantages in terms of tailoring the adverts and ensuring relevancy and personalisation.

In fact this is the main strength of native advertising over display ads. Native advertising requires a huge amount of creativity in tailoring the content to the platform and user.

This obviously requires a lot more effort, but in the current environment where banner ad click through rates have gone from 9% in 2000 to 0.2% in 2012, a more tailored approach has to be sought.

At the moment there are no real performance measurements for native advertising available as it’s a relatively new category. On social media sites a brand can see how many shares, likes or retweets a post gets.

Elsewhere, it’s possible to measure the pageviews from the launch of a native ad and the subsequent increase. Mainly it seems that brands and publishers look at the level of engagement achieved with a native ad. This is a fairly nebulous measurement and is up to the brand to devise its own metrics and system for analysis.

User trust is key to native advertising success. It’s imperative that the content is clearly labeled as an advert to promote complete transparency. However the content also has to match the platform.

An advert’s aim is to make money, raise awareness or both. It could be considered that native advertising is a tricksy way to capture user’s attention offguard and achieve a certain number of accidental click-throughs. This is where native advertising treads into shady territory.

I’m very aware this is only a very brief overview of native advertising and misses a lot of nuance and complexity, however this is just meant to be a brief introduction by way of a learning experience. If there’s anything important that I’ve missed please feel free to educate me further in the comments below. 

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things… 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 5 November, 2013 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

We publish a magazine and blog that embraces native advertising. But these are far from the advertorials you mention, which only tend to work in print magazines (if at all).

Native advertising allows brands to influence the content we publish and include pre-selected links (back to a campaign or other page on their website). The influence they wield by paying a fee doesn't change what we write, but it does encourage us to write about their brand.

We don't write glowing recommendations of their brand (or product), because that just undermines the voice we have and the value we can offer their brand. Neither do we slag them off, because clearly they wouldn't choose to pay to promote content which does - so we usually adopt the same constructive (and critical) prose as we do in any other article.

Our sector is cars, which is an incredibly grey area for native advertising. Nearly all car reviews are in effect the product of native advertising - brands spend tens of thousands of pounds launching cars and seeding their reviews in magazines and websites. The currency they pay with is access to the cars (which would otherwise cost thousands to hire), they provide tyres, the first tank of fuel and often the flights, 5-star hotels and circuits to drive them on. In exchange the magazines provide the brands with attention and the brands expect a positive review in return.

Brands see these two forms in much the same way and budget for the expenditure needed to generate content in which their brand is presented in a favourable light.

Native advertising therefore is far from new, but it's now being driven at scale with the brands moving upstream along the value chain to become ‘producers’ rather than just ‘suppliers’.

almost 3 years ago

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Alan King, Managing Partner Digital at UM London

Good post Christopher.

Native is a catch-all term for any ad that looks as it belongs in it's environment. It should go one step further and demand that it adds value to the user. An interruptive advertorial disguised as content won't work any more.

Native formats are the future of digital marketing. Banner ads will never work on mobile phones long term and that's where the most content will be consumed in the coming years.

The best mobile marketing is native. Facebook and Twitter still have nascent solutions but indicate where things are going.

Performance needs to tie into attribution metrics. Expecting people to cease what they are doing on the web to spend time with a brand (click) is unreasonable; unless that brand is helping them do what they were there to do in the first place.

almost 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Head of Group Analytics & Digital Insight at Thomas Cook Group AirlinesEnterprise

Really interesting article and useful as until about two weeks ago (when I saw an article about the Sunday People's relaunch - which albeit I can't actually find any adverts on as yet!) so thanks for that.

For me, for Online Display to play a crucial part in advertiser's budgets they are going to have to embrace Native Advertising (and probably closed Native advertising at that too) and the potential labour intensive resources it requires as otherwise they will continue to waste money on adverts that 99.999% of users actively ignore without even thinking about it...

almost 3 years ago

Steve Davies

Steve Davies, CEO at Fitch Media

One trend I've noticed is the number of brands creating their own branded content (such as infographics and feature articles) then lobbing bloggers and websites to publish them.

The brands reason that it's a more effective use of their spend to create the content they want to see published rather than rely on editing teams, but this is little more than a redirected display ad - readers can spot it a mile off and it's usually far too self-promotional.

They also fail to realise that we live in a content-saturated world - any decent blogger or writer will have more than enough content and topics already, so they'll need to collaborate with publishers and produce something unique.

almost 3 years ago

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webmoghuls

Great post Christopher. really enjoyed it. Its a very interesting article

almost 3 years ago

Chris Talintyre

Chris Talintyre, Head of Marketing at Factory Media Ltd

A good starter guide post Chris! I enjoyed reading it from a media and marketing perspective. The only thing I would take issue with is the 'tricksy' element that you mentioned about user trust.

I work for a media company that has been producing native advertising for years. It does differ very much from the old advertorial model in that brands pay us to create engaging content, not adverts, and then we help them distribute that content across the web. Whether that be through our own network of sites, or through a wider network of aligned sites and through social media.

Essentially from a media perspective it allows us to scale up our content production, improve production values especially with video, and allows us to distribute that content to a much wider audience than we could otherwise afford.

The user isn't duped as we would have been producing the content anyway, but the likelihood of a user seeing it would be much smaller as would only be published within our own network.

Brands derive value in a number of ways either through sponsorship of that content, use of their products or athletes within it, general alignment with our brands, as well as not having the headache of building a distribution plan for the campaign.

If anyone is just getting into this area I would be happy to help out with advice if I can. Just drop me a line...

almost 3 years ago

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Melanie Clarke, Online Marketing Executive at Spire HealthcareSmall Business

Thanks Chris, interesting post! I think Buzzfeed is a great example of native advertising - no more banner ads but 'featured partners' curating their own content.

almost 3 years ago

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Jeremy Swinfen Green

A small point but I don't think banner ctrs were anything like 9% in 2000. More like 0.9%. I think they were around 5% in 1995. ctr doesnt really matter if the intention of the campaign is branding and banners can be quite good at that.

almost 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Head of Group Analytics & Digital Insight at Thomas Cook Group AirlinesEnterprise

@ Jeremy

I disagree I'm afraid - the concept of branding is to actually raise the awareness of a brand and I would argue that in the majority of cases (unless you either have the budget of a Telco and can serve 300+ impressions to every person in the uk each month or have the budget to run expansive creatives) banners always fail to deliver on this.

Far better if that's your aim to at least look to a channel (largely offline I admit) that will definitely get you blanket exposure and recognition...

almost 3 years ago

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