Is Native Advertising Scalable?

There’s been a lot of discussion about native advertising lately, and an irrefutable rise in its adoption—by brands and publishers alike.  But there’ve also been some misnomers—some debate about what qualifies as native, and if it’s scalable.

Two of digital media’s fastest-growing trends, programmatic and native advertising, seem, at least on some level, contradictory—depending on your definition of native advertising, that is.  Programmatic, the automation of digital ad-sales (click here for a more thorough definition), will reach $4.66 billion this year, a 38.4 percent increase from 2013, according to eMarketer.  By 2017, programmatic could surpass $9 billion.  Native advertising spending is expected to reach $2.85 billion this year, a smaller slice of the pie, no doubt, but you wouldn’t guess it from all the media attention it’s garnering.

Can these trends converge?  That brings us to the first phase of our debate.

How do you define native advertising? 

The IAB’s definition of native advertisements states that they mimic the design and function of their surrounding environments.  Most publishers agree that native advertising must be clearly labeled to avoid reader confusion, although the topic sparked some debate at the recent FDC native advertising workshop.  Most also agree that, official definitions aside, native advertisements should offer readers high quality content.

“It has to match the editorial voice and provide readers with some value.  We talk about this all of the time: infotainment—content has to be informative or entertaining.  If it’s not, it’s not engaging,” says Tessa Gould, director of native advertising & HuffPost Partner Studio, Huffington Post’s native ad products division.  “For brands, native advertising gives them a seat at the table.  They are in-stream and part of the conversation.  When done properly, it even allows them to start the conversation.”

Tessa Gould of The Huffington Post

For some, “properly” is open to interpretation.  For example, does the content have to mirror the tone of the publisher hosting the content?

“Two years ago I would have said yes: if you are buying on HuffPo then it should look, feel and sound like you’re on HuffPo so the users engage with it the same way they would with HuffPo content.  My opinions have changed, though, because now I see the value in reusing content,” says Jarrod Dicker, head of commercial product & operations, RebelMouse and former head of social at Huffington Post, where he helped establish its native advertising division.  “Native advertising has to have a viewpoint and be relevant to the landscape it is trafficked on, but it doesn’t have to be in the exact voice of the publisher it is living on.”

He describes an imminent GE content partnership in which the company partnered with pundits from a host of major publishers, including Slate, NBC, Fox and CNN, to create content that will run on all of the participating news sites.  “If you’re on, all the news will be mostly leaning towards a rightwing, conservative viewpoint, but what’s so cool is that in these GE ad units, you’ll see content with an opposing viewpoint—content from contributors from CNN, NBC and Politico,” he explains, noting that the same holds true for readers of more liberal sites—they’ll get to watch or listen to more conservative views than they’re accustomed to seeing.

Of course, the content also has to have some logical nod back to the brand.  If the high quality content is not intersecting with the brand’s value proposition, what’s the point?  Gould notes this extreme is “far less discussed” than “pluggy” content but may be just as ineffective.  “There are always smart ways to tie in the brand’s marketing objective,” she notes.

Who should create it?

And who should be making those smart tie-ins?  Publishers know their audience best, so it makes sense for them to create native ads for their clients.  But lately, brands have put on that publisher hat with renewed vigor—both out of necessity, as content is integral to connecting with their audience, and because they believe they understand their brand better than anyone else.  But not all brands are GEs.  They’ll need some help creating high quality native advertisements, which brings us to our last point…

Is it scalable? 

“There are companies out there, such as Outbrain, Taboola, Sharethrough and a number of others, who will tell you that native advertising is definitely scalable, and that they have solutions that can help you.  I personally believe that native advertising does not, by definition, scale outside the platform that it is native to,” says Gould.  “It is not a volume play—quality is paramount.  That is part of the reason we decided to roll out an in-house studio in the first place.”

Jarrod Dicker of Rebelmouse

Dicker contends that services like RebelMouse are key to delivering native advertising at scale.  RebelMouse allows brands to deliver content from their social networks into standard IAB ad units in real-time.  “We have allowed brands to take that amazing content they are paying social agencies to create and to use it through programmatic solutions and ad exchanges.  They’re able to take that best-performing content off those social channels and put it in an ad unit which they can now distribute programmatically,” he explains.

That’s certainly scalable, but is it native?  Dicker believes it’s at least effective: “I think that if brands create content that is meaningful and engaging, it will be engaged, shared and read the same way editorial content will be,” he notes.

No one’s arguing that there’s not enough ad dollars to go around.  Huffington Post is predicting double-digit native advertising growth this year and also forecasts an increase in technology-led techniques, such as enhanced targeting and retargeting capabilities and content personalization.  Regardless of how you define it, there’s no doubt that brands and publishers are embracing it in a big way. There are still some kinks to be worked out and forks in the road to be navigated, but there’s no stopping the trend: native advertising’s got legs, and it’s picking up speed.


Want to join the discussion?  Dicker and Gould are both speakers at the upcoming Westchester Digital Summit.  Register today and join your colleagues as they discuss, debate and reflect on the industry’s most pressing issues.

By, Jacqueline Lisk  @JLisk1

Content creation & strategy expert; believer that brand journalism can be high-quality journalism

How to Avoid 6 Common Social Media Marketing Mistakes

Social media powerhouses from GE to Facebook share their secrets to creating effective social media marketing campaigns and avoiding the most common mistakes

What is it that distinguishes a really good social media campaign from a just “okay” endeavor?  Can a small- or medium-sized business have a Samsung selfie moment?  What are many social media marketers at businesses of all sizes doing wrong?  Two industry experts—Linda Boff, executive director, global digital marketing at GE and Brett Wein, director at Facebook, flag common social media marketing mistakes committed by novices and experts alike. 

Linda Boff of GE


1.     Copy with caution

Although it’s tempting to copy the best practices of others, effective social media marketing isn’t that simple.  What works for one brand may not work for another, and borrowing the wrong tactic may leave your communication disjointed and disingenuous.  It’s important to create your own strong brand persona and stick to it.  Boff notes that failing to do so is one of the biggest mistakes brands make. Instead, too many are “trying to emulate another brand that has done something successfully.”

Every post, tweet or Vine should be created with your identity in mind and adhere to clearly documented social media communication guidelines.  (You have those, right?  Here are some steps to get you started.)   “A lot of attention goes to events like the Samsung selfie or the Oreo tweet, both of which worked really well for those brands, but every brand is different.  You have to discover your own essence and let that guide how you talk about yourself, where you talk about yourself and, really, just who you are a brand,” she advises.

2.     Use the right KPIs and measure them effectively

According to Social Media Examiner, 83 percent of marketers report that social media is important for their business, yet 52 percent cite difficulties in accurately measuring ROI as their biggest source of frustration in social marketing, according to Adobe.  (Check out additional useful marketing stats here.)

Wein’s clients at Facebook use core business metrics to measure campaign success.  “The days of looking at what I call social metrics—things like engagement, likes, fans or followers—are over.  Today is about business metrics: Are we driving sales? Are we driving brand affinity and purchase intent?   If you’re the owner of a company, big or small, you care about one thing.  You care about what your marketing is doing for your brand or for your sales,” he says.

How can you evaluate success if you haven’t pinpointed clear goals and parameters for measuring them?  Ensure you have proper analytic tools in place, even when you’re assessing upper-funnel objectives such as raising brand awareness.

3.     Don’t fixate on the whole “going viral” thing

Every brand dreams of creating a social media moment that takes on a life of its own.  That possibility is part of what makes social media marketing so attractive.  Every piece of new content creates a chance for viral success.  But can virality even be predicted?  Companies like Buffer and Upworthy certainly seem to have it down to a science, but they also benefit from scale and vast resources.  Do follow their tips for writing strong headlines and building effective distribution channels, but don’t sacrifice your identity in an attempt to reach the masses.

“I think it’s almost impossible to predict what will go viral,” says Boff, noting that not even Samsung could have predicted the success of that selfie.  “I think we all write the stories in retrospect.  We’ve gotten pretty skilled at telling the post mortem story as though it could have been well understood ahead of time, but I think it is almost impossible to understand.  The consumer journey is harder than ever to understand because it is so non-linear.  You can prepare for serendipity, and we do. We deliberately set out to have our content in a wide variety of places where we think people who share our passion for technology will be spending their time, knowing this increases the likelihood of them discovering and sharing our content.  You prepare to be serendipitous, but you also have to pick the four-leaf clover.  You’ve got to get lucky, too.”

4.     Be prepared to pay

A common rookie mistake made by marketers is framing social media as a free marketing tactic.  Yes, it’s free to the users, but to take advantage of its potential, marketers should prepare to invest—not just time, but money.

Brett Wein of Facebook

“A lot of people look at social media companies like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest and think, ‘we are going to communicate for free.’  In reality you can, but you need to pay to take advantage of these platforms’ ability to find a target audience at scale.  If you are just relying on the organic nature of Facebook, Twitter or any of the other companies, you are missing out on a huge audience of people who may be interested in what you have to say,” advises Wein.

Investing in a paid social strategy allows you to bring your content to a new audience – those who have not yet realized that they’re interested in hearing from you.

5.     See everything as social

“I think we are going to see less of a divide between traditional media and social media, and more of a blend that’s focused on good media and good creative that resonates with people,” predicts Wein, explaining that these days, all media is striving to provoke two-way conversation—a goal typically reserved for social initiatives in the past.  Now there’s a surge in integrated campaigns and a rise in social tie-ins.  Don’t operate your social networks in a silo or you’ll risk missing opportunities for innovative, cross-platform campaigns.

Like what you read?  Want to learn more from the world’s most esteemed digital thought leaders and rub shoulders with distinguished attendees from Mastercard, IBM, Rebelmouse, GE, Facebook, & Linkedin?  Linda Boff and Brett Wein are both speakers at the upcoming Westchester Digital Summit, named one of the “must attend marketing events for leaders in 2014” by Forbes.  Register today.  Space is limited.     

By, Jacqueline Lisk  @JLisk1

Content creation & strategy expert; believer that brand journalism can be high-quality journalism