Getting native advertising right

by Nigel Hollis | January 26, 2015

One of our 2015 Digital & Media Predictions authored by Jon Salm predicts that native advertising—online ads created to blend in with a publishing platform’s format—will be huge in 2015. It is expected that $21 billion will be spent on this format in 2018, but as Jon notes without research a lot of that money will go to waste.


I am sure that Jon’s prediction that native advertising will boom in 2015 is a safe bet. His review of current learning suggests that when done right the format works well. Native advertising has the advantage over display in that it sits in line of sight with editorial content and is 50% more likely to be looked at than regular display ads. When tailored to fit the focus and tone of the editorial there is probably a stronger expectation from the audience that the content will be worth their time. The challenge for the advertisers is to make sure that their content delivers on those expectations.

Jon concludes his prediction as follows:

“The key for advertisers will be to partner with the best publishers, and the key for publishers will be to follow the native golden rules – confidently identify native ads as sponsored content, match the site’s editorial tone, and create content that resonates with the audience.”

How can you tell whether your content is going to resonate with the target audience? If we extrapolate from learnings about other digital formats and print advertising, we can identify general guidelines but you never know for sure unless you pre-test the content with the target audience.

For native advertising to be effective the audience must perceive the ad as immediately and personally relevant, it has to resonate. So you need to anticipate not just who you need to reach but their likely mindset. You need to work with that mindset, not fight it. Why are they on the site? Are they looking for information or entertainment?

What is going to make them engage with your content beyond a quick glance to assess relevance? That will depend a lot on your brand and category. Our learning on how print advertising works finds that the brand itself can have a strong influence on whether people remember an ad, I suspect it is the same for display and native advertising – we definitely know that display ads that prominently feature the brand have a stronger influence on purchase intent than those that do not.

Lastly, what do you expect your ad to achieve? Ultimately you want the audience to buy your brand but expecting someone to jump away from the Onion to your web site might be asking too much. Getting the audience to learn something new and positive about your brand will be easier and simply reminding people of the brand’s existence to keep it salient easier still, provided they recognize it is your brand sponsoring the content.

So what do you think of native advertising’s potential? When does it work well and when does it not? Please share your thoughts.