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Native ad spend surpasses growth expectations, latecomers benefiting from best practices

Survey conducted by Nativo

With native ad spend increasing by a whopping 600% from 2014 to 2016, and expected to reach $28bn by 2018, benchmark results from a recent study show that early adopters like automotive and B2B tech have had a rocky relationship with native ads. With these early adopters - which also include industries like entertainment, tech B2C, finance and insurance - adopting native advertising in 2014, their industries have seen a 20% decline in ad spend — from 57% in 2014 to 37% in 2016.

The data indicates that fast movers today - including business, CPG, travel, food and drink - came late to the native ad industry but benefit from early knowledge. And the trend shows clearly that late adopters have really made gains.

“What was most surprising from the study is how within specific verticals, adoption between major competitive advertisers also highly varied,” said Justin Choi, chief executive officer of Nativo. “For example, while we saw one or two major brands within a category embrace native early on as part of their broader digital strategy and experience clear successes, a competitive brand waited longer to invest in native strategies — years after the early adopters.”

The study also shows which verticals are performing best. CPG, entertainment, travel, food and drink, and tech B2C are all seeing higher levels of engagement from native ads than other industries.

“This goes to show how even within verticals, an advertiser’s affinity to explore new formats and channels can vary widely based on company culture, values, and other priorities that matter to the brand,” Choi said. “This helps explain why some categories with rapid growth driven by early adopters have slowed as other verticals ramped up quickly with higher overall adoption rates.”

The report concentrates on native ads, but that is just one part of a multi-faceted marketing strategy and asks if native advertising, sponsored content, and influencer marketing — seen as separate disciplines by many — are starting to merge.

“For the foreseeable future, yes — each of them today maintains very distinct characteristics as separate marketing disciplines, but they are not mutually exclusive,” Choi said. “Native advertising continues to evolve into an umbrella term used to define native and non-native in-feed formats and high-impact content-based executions with well-established premium publishers. Influencers can create sponsored content and publish that content into native ad placements across different platforms to generate reach. So it’s easy to feel these disciplines are merging because to some extent — for reasons such as scale — they are increasingly becoming more fluid and fluent in conjunction with one another.”

Regarding the marketing stack required to manage these disciplines, the three techniques remain separate.

“From a technology perspective, we’ll see these initiatives increasingly housed together in more holistic tech stacks, but they remain distinct functions along the supply chain,” Choi said.

While native ads and content are growing rapidly, the likes of Facebook are pushing ahead with social ads as an alternative to ever-reducing native reach. Other platforms still offer great native content options. We’ve seen brands getting a free ride from Snapchat, with native content results showing huge returns, the study noted.

“It’s still the early days in native, and publishers are still wrestling with formats and monetization,” Choi said. “In the case of Facebook, it’s been their style to encourage adoption with free exposure with minimal restrictions, then slowly roll out products and make adjustments based on where they see results. Snapchat will follow that trend, and brand exposure costs will increase over time. That said, good content will always be rewarded by consumers.”

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Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

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