Native advertising is paid content that’s made to match the look and feel of the website it’s presented on, so it looks more like organic content. It encompasses many content formats, ranging from articles to infographics and videos. This type of content appears to provide value to the audience, but the end goal to sell a product or service remains the same. Native ad spend is expected to reach $21 billion by 2018, up from $4.7 billion in 2013.
Native advertising is part of content marketing, and the strategy helps increase your content distribution and reach.
How Native Advertising Works
Native advertising, named this way because the ads look native to their environment, works to circumvent banner blindness. It also remains in place despite the fact that 46% of millennials, and 26% of people in general, are now using some form of ad blocker on their desktop devices. Though the numbers are slightly different for mobile devices, people are tired of seeing ads. By providing advertisements in a non-obtrusive way, the user experience isn’t affected, but users are still exposed to the ads. Consumers interact with native ads anywhere from 20% to 60% more than they do with standard banner ads, allowing for a greater ROI.
It’s a win-win situation for marketers, advertisers, and publishers. Publishers are becoming increasingly more selective about the advertising they’ll allow on the websites, for fear of turning off readers. They need the advertising dollars to keep the platform up and running for their readership. Marketers need publishers to consent to advertisements so they can get their message out to the right audience.
Native advertising generally leads to higher click-through rates, and when done correctly, can even increase engagement rates.
Take for instance the Tic Tac Vote for the Next Flavour Campaign. Tic Tac Canada partnered with BuzzFeed to develop a series of sponsored posts and an embedded Tic Tac game app. BuzzFeed articles remained true to their listicle style, featuring titles such as “Can You Make It Through This Post Without Smiling?” and “11 Reasons Why The Year 2000 Was The Best“. The posts ended with an interactive voting game, where readers were able to vote for the next Tic Tac flavor.
This approach gave BuzzFeed highly sharable humor, but it also helped Tic Tac because BuzzFeed has such a large following. As a result of the partnership, the contest got more than 40,000 unique entries.
Investing in Native Advertising
Native advertising is a pay-for-play game, just like PPC and social media advertising. I wish I could tell you how much you should spend and where. But the reality is that only you can decide what kind of budget you have available for marketing and advertising – and what portion of your budge you want to allocate to native advertising.
I will suggest that you start small. Watch how the first ads go, and then when you see the response you’re looking for, scale up. Try allocating a small budget to a few publishers, with some unique approaches to each.
The more popular your publisher, the more you can expect to spend. Some will include the cost of content creation, while others will add to it if you expect them to do the work. According to this article from Digiday, you should expect to spent $10,000 on a campaign with the Daily Mail, and $30,000 on a campaign with the Huffington Post. Both of those publishers operate on a cost-per-view model, guaranteeing 40,000 views and 3 million impressions, respectively. For that price tag – your single article of content is included.
If you’re suffering from sticker shock, realize there are much smaller publishers that can deliver value with less of an initial investment. And remember, research shows native ads have an 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lit in brand affinity responses compared to traditional banner ads. Plus, 32% of consumers will share native ads with friends or family compared to only 19% for banner ads.
Step-by-Step Guide to Native Advertising
Begin by selecting the type of content you’re going to use for native advertising, so you can then choose a publisher for content placement. The most common form of native advertising is the sponsored blog post, or sponsored article, which according to Hexagram’s State of Native Advertising Report come in at 65% and 63% respectively. The goal of your sponsored content is to provide entertaining or helpful information, relevant to the publisher audience. The piece should be so well done that readers engage, and share it with others in their networks.
A friend of mine mentioned the other day that she saw an article pop up in her Facebook feed from Good Housekeeping. The content was actually a video about what to look for when picking a good smartphone, but it was also working to plug the Samsung Galaxy S7 for Walmart. A closer inspect of the Good Housekeeping website reveals partnerships where they’ve created content for Walmart, Splenda, and L’Oreal cosmetics.
After you choose the type of content you’re going to create – come up with a list of publishers where the content could be a fit. Obviously, you don’t want to pitch a sponsored blog post to a site that focuses on video content only, or a sponsored infographic to a site that doesn’t match a place where your audience would most likely to be spending their time online.
Pitch your content angle to the publishers you’re most interested in working with. This way, you’re only working to produce content you know will be accepted. If more than one publisher accepts the same angle, you can always go back and adjust it to create a new piece of native advertising content.
Get to work on the content, submit, and wait for it to be published. Take your time. If you’re not confident in your content creation abilities, reach out to to some quality freelancers. Search LinkedIn, or look to agencies who provide content through their own network of writers.
Alternatively, you can always produce the content first, and find a publisher to fit it later. If there isn’t a publisher who will agree to run it, it can be adjusted and run on the company blog, or used in another part of the marketing strategy later. All content assets can be made to have value – it’s just a matter of where and when to use them.
Remember, native content goes beyond blog posts, articles, graphics, and videos. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, there are six core types of native ad formats, which are outlined in the Native Advertising Playbook.
- In-feed units: Appear on news outlets and social media, labeled as “sponsor content”
- Paid search units: Advertisers pay to be listed at the top of search engine results for certain keywords
- Recommendation widgets: These pull related content from “around the web” based on keywords or topics, and then list them at the bottom of an article. You’ll see these on various media outlet websites, especially Huffington Post and the like.
- In-ad with native element units: These are placed next to editorial content based on contextual relevance and keywords, but link to another website.
- Custom units: These are unique and platform specific, such as customized playlists on Pandora and Spotify
- Promoted listings: Similar to the paid search units, but appear only on ecommerce sites like Etsy, eBay, and Amazon. You may also see them referred to as “featured listings.”
Avoiding Mistakes in Your Native Advertising Strategy
No matter what your native advertising strategy entails, you must take steps to remain in compliance with the FTC guidelines. The FTC Act of 1983 prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” This means you must be completely transparent, making sure to distinguish the native ad content from other forms of content on your website. If there’s a possibility your ad could mislead consumers, there must be a disclosure. Said disclosure must be clear and prominently displayed. If you’re not sure how to handle this, the official FTC guidelines provide a number of examples to assist you.
When developing your disclosure, make sure it uses clear language, in a font and color that’s easy to read. The disclosure should be placed as close as possible to the related ads, and must stand out from the background on the page. If the disclosure is placed on a video ad, it must remain on the screen long enough for viewers to notice, read, and understand it. If the disclosure is included as part of an audio ad, it must be read at a speed that’s easy for people to follow and using words customers will understand.
Native Advertising is the Wave of the Future
The fact is, people are constantly inundated with advertising, everywhere they look – online and off – in the home and outside of it, too. Because we see so many ads all the time, it’s hard to really remember any of them – and to really pay attention. The native advertising approach builds them into what we’re already looking at, and keeps it relevant to what we’re willing to pay attention to. After all, if we’re reading an article, we’re obviously interested, right?
As a web user, do you mind sponsored content and native advertising? Do you like knowing that you’re being sold to while you’re being informed and entertained? As a marketer, what experience do you have with native advertising? I’d love to hear your thoughts!