The following is a guest post from Susan Borst, VP of Mobile at the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
What exactly is native advertising? That's a question that simply won't go away despite the fact that by the end of 2020, advertisers will devote almost two-thirds of display budgets to native ads to the tune of $53 billion, according to eMarketer.
In 2013, I led a working group of over 100 IAB members who developed the IAB Native Advertising Playbook which provided the industry with a framework for thinking about and discussing native advertising options. This Playbook defined native as "a concept encompassing both an aspiration as well as a suite of ad products…deliver[ing] paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior… that the viewer simply feels the ads belong."
Much has changed since 2013 that has had an impact on native buying and selling which is why IAB is launching the IAB Native Advertising Playbook 2.0 today. Yet, despite marketplace changes, the new working group agreed that the original definition still holds true and will remain the same.
If the definition of native hasn't changed, why is there lingering confusion?
Let's take a step back to understand why and how native advertising came to be in the first place. Born largely out of concerns about clutter, shorter attention spans and banner blindness — especially on mobile — marketers and publishers were searching for ways to engage with consumers in more organic ways. Enter native advertising, where ads were placed in the viewer's natural activity stream with content that was predominantly more storytelling then overt selling.
Native meant that ads were no longer constrained by the right rail, were designed to be visually less intrusive and, importantly, provided the reader with real value designed for more of an emotional connection with a brand in a contextually relevant editorial environment. Countless studies confirmed consumer receptivity of and engagement with these new types of ads compared to traditional banner ads, paving the way for further growth.
Where the industry can get bogged down is in the details of the ad products, at the expense of the aspiration of native
This is especially true in a world where over 85% of digital display ads are transacted programmatically, largely led by social media platforms which dominate native ad spend and also enabled by OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads. Add to this the fact that new native formats are continually being introduced, which can cause even more confusion.
For this reason, the IAB Native Evaluation Criteria seen in the Playbook is more important now than ever to assess if a specific native ad type will meet your strategic goals. The Evaluation Criteria is an acknowledgment of the nuances of different native formats and is meant to allow buyers and sellers to share a common language to discuss ad products in the context of native, not to provide a definitive scaling mechanism for the industry. These nuances include the design, the location and the behavior of the ad, as well as disclosure, which is of paramount importance.
In many ways, the definition of what makes an ad native is in the eye of the beholder, with many nuances to be aware of:
- Is it just the design and location that makes an ad native?
- Does the content itself define native? Is the ad content storytelling, just plain selling or something in between?
The reality is that there are no hard and fast, right or wrong answers to these questions, so each native ad unit should be evaluated based on its own merit. With this said, if the core criteria for native becomes the design of the ad, regardless of the content/context itself, are we heading down a slippery slope that could lead to a world of "native blindness" if consumers get frustrated with the content experience, particularly in-feed?
Going back to the IAB definition, native is both an aspiration as well as a suite of ad products. Let's not lose sight of the aspiration.