Great native advertising cannot be automated.

To think about selling on a CPM basis and defining native advertising as simply a question of format, rather than content, is wrong.

The value of a native ad campaign resides in the quality of the content, therefore the engagement with the piece - and that's more than just a click, it's time on page and a share count (and potentially an associated action).

At the IAB Content Conference, I listened to a number of speakers with interesting angles on native advertising.

Here I'll share Nick Bradley's (Northern & Shell) healthily sceptical view of native, including (more positively) some examples of native advertising done well.

For a full intro to native advertising see the new Econsultancy report, Native Advertising: What it means for brands and publishers.

The resurgence of content

Journalists are tied to the pageview as a metric.

This has led to the prevalence of list posts and slideshows, perfected by BuzzFeed and now seen everywhere from The Daily Mail to The Guardian.

Readers' list/picture/meme fatigue has led to a resurgent interest in content; long-form, informed, passionately written content. Nick cited Narratively, Medium and First Look Media as platforms built to capitalize on this sentiment.

Narratively in particular makes it clear that its aim is to disrupt the news cycle, allowing people to tell stories beautifully. It does this by having a different theme each week and building on and developing this theme as the week goes on.


Online ads are broken

There's no doubt why native advertising is interesting many. It's because display ads are not much liked by anyone.

There is a reliance on the click for measurement of ad performance. Clickthrough rate is less than a measly 0.1% and many people use ad blockers, such is their dislike of the way display ads disrupt the online experience.

In-stream formats

Nick showed a slide featuring the logos of Twitter, Facebook, BuzzFeed and Tumblr and asked 'what have these companies got in common when it comes to advertising?'

The answer is that none of them run any recognised IAB ad formats. They all run native or in-stream advertising.

The best native advertising can't be automated

The danger of defining this in-stream format as native advertising (the experience of the ad is native to the experience of the website - before looking at quality of content) is that these formats can be sold in the same way as traditional display ads. This is automated (more commonly in the US than the UK) by some publishers and can only lead to a compromise on quality.

Of course, native formats are not new. Advertorials have been running for a hundred years, their format was native but their content was not necessarily so (full of brand mentions and not always at the same standard as the publication).

So what is good native advertising?

It now sounds like a cliche, but the answer is compelling stories. Chartbeat suggests that while 71% of readers scroill down normal publisher content, only 24% scroll down through native advertising.

This stat hints that the content isn't good or doesn't fit with the publisher or both. In fact, Nick gave an example from the Daily Express, a Northern & Shell title, when they were finding their feet with native and didn't get it right. The feature was about holiday homes. The design of the page was not in-keeping with the rest of the newspaper, so readers felt disoriented on page.

Nick gave a few examples of his ideas of native advertising done well:

The Creator's Project, Intel and Vice

Vice produces this tech- and creative-themed microsite with Intel.

What marks this out as great native advertising is the quality of the contributors, from The XX to David Bowie to Spike Jonze.

creator's project 

Red Bull

Red Bull is an oft-cited pioneer of great content marketing, but in effect, it's also a great native advertiser.

The only thing difference here is that Red Bull is the publisher and the advertiser. The Red Bull site includes tons of content on music, sports, games etc, without placing the brand, other than aesthetically (i.e. there's not lots of talk about taurine-based drinks), all over the content.

red bull

For more healthy scepticism around native advertising, see Doug Kessler's arguments for a reader backlash.

If you're interested in advertising, it forms one of the channels of our award-winning Festival of Marketing, which runs November 12-13th.

Ben Davis

Published 25 July, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (4)


Eddie May

Interesting thoughts Ben and I think you are spot-on that there's a problem with the definition of what 'native advertising' is.

If we're talking about advertorial-style content produced by a brand in close partnership with a publisher, that can't be automated (although could be amplified through other channels in an automated way). It's also not an especially new tactic - as you say, advertorials have been around for a long time (some good, some terrible).

In-stream ads and promoted content obviously can be run programatically and highly targeted, but I think only have real value if they are taking the reader through to some well-crafted, useful, relevant content.

almost 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


Thanks. Yep, I think Nick Bradley's thoughts were exactly the right way to position the debate.

i.e. I think there are wins out there for brands and for publishers when the right approach is taken.

The key is not to disenfranchise the reader.

Plenty more to come on the blog and some research coverage in this area. Stay tuned!

almost 4 years ago


Fedja Hvastija, Head of client strategy at Frodx

Just today I read a brilliant post on the ethical conundrum of native advertising and content marketing in general.

No affiliation with the author, other than my admiration of how they approach B2B content marketing in general.

almost 4 years ago



almost 4 years ago

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