Head to head: How will native advertising evolve in 2015?

Native advertising split opinion in 2014, with publishers, brands and agencies alike struggling to make sense of the opportunities available.

The Drum caught up with four players in the native advertising mix – media agency, publisher, brand and native ad platform – to get their perspectives on native as it transitions to become an ever more valuable component of the media landscape for brands and publishers.

The media agency: Tom Dunn, head of digital strategy, Maxus Global

By all accounts, 2014 was the year that native advertising evolved from buzzword to serious contender in the media plan. Yet brands have being producing native (in the form of paid search, Facebook posts and tweets and the like) as a matter of course for years, while Buzzfeed exemplifies a new breed of publishers producing commercial content to fit the digital experience. Publishers still grappling with their native proposition now fall far behind the curve.

The greatest challenge for native advertising as we start 2015 remains one of perception. With native offering a win-win to publishers and brands alike, without detracting from user experience (in fact when executed well, positively enhancing it) it shouldn’t be a terribly hard sell. Yet this being a relatively nascent development in digital, the usual barriers exist.

As with everything in media, this year there have been two opposing camps in native. One is the John Oliver school of thought, whereby evil advertisers are eroding editorial integrity by tricking consumers into reading their content. The other positions native advertising as the silver bullet to solve everything, sounding the death knell of display. As ever, the reality is more rational – people will read excellent content no matter who produces it, while native never set out to achieve the direct response objective of digital display.

Lack of standardisation is a challenge, and was the main topic of debate at an AOP panel earlier this year. By its nature, native ads don’t adhere to a set format and, as such, defy IAB standards. But while this poses issues around measurement of native campaigns – that lack of standardisation is also a fantastic USP. If native ads looked the same wherever they appear, they wouldn’t be native. And standardising native ads risks removing that which makes them so appealing - namely, seamless integration with the experience.

Therein lies one of the greatest opportunities for 2015: creativity. Creative agencies have tended not to pick up the majority of native briefs, handing exciting creative responsibility to media agencies, as well as niche specialists. That said, native still needs to move up the food chain to be viewed as a credible part of the media mix by creative agencies and clients.

The publisher: Paul Hood, digital director, Archant London

Let’s face it – there’s a big problem with bog standard display advertising on the open web. 60-80 per cent of the web is total garbage. Around 40 per cent is allegedly bot-related with much of the rest made up of torrent sites and user generated content.

Advertisers’ spend inevitably spreads out across this ‘low quality internet’ – ultimately jeopardising the growth of digital advertising globally.

As a result of inventory oversupply, display yields for all – including premium publishers – continue to get hammered on price.

But with native advertising, premium publishers have an opportunity to provide brand safe environments for advertisers, and brand context. Does it feel safe for advertisers to tell their story on the FT? On Autotrader? On Which? Of course it does. So they should tell their stories in these places, and native advertising solutions can facilitate that.

The brand: Paul Randle, digital capability director, Brand Learning (formerly AkzoNobel)

Native is such a new concept that in many organisations there is naturally a good deal of confusion; some people ‘get’ it while others are still reluctant to change. This disparity in understanding how to use native advertising can cause a certain amount of angst and confusion; suppliers and intermediaries need to bear this in mind.

Even within organisations that do it well, there are pockets of excellence alongside quite the opposite. Sometimes, even in the largest businesses, advocacy for a new tactic such as native can come down to an individual’s knowledge and enthusiasm. And as a client, even when your media agency is putting native on the table, if it’s not really understood there can be a ‘traditionalist’ response and native can find itself battling against a TV legacy, thus making it hard to get through the door.

Piloting native at a global level can often be a good approach in the face of such issues but even where the pilot is successful, it can be hard to move native down into the mix and ‘operationalise’ it.

As a client, keeping abreast of change is a massive issue; brands can depend to a certain extent on their agencies and tech suppliers but it needs individuals with the right capabilities in-house to ask the right questions.

My advice to any brand wanting to do native is to go in and test the water, but have a mindset that allows you to fail initially before you get things right. Ensure you have the right types of expertise and teams in place. Whatever you do, if you are going to make it work, don’t just think of it as a media buying trick, but rather view it as part of the full content consideration.

The native advertising platform: Francis Turner, managing director, Adyoulike

There has been lots of discussion around disclosure and what is and what isn’t native, but the IAB and the main protagonists – publishers, content producers, tech platforms and brands – are doing a great job at self-regulation and instigating wider frames to ensure that native evolves to the best of its ability.

2014 saw a positive change in attitudes from brands and agencies towards content creation, and how they get that content out to users in a none-intrusive, disclosed and engaging manner. While native isn’t the default response to every content marketing brief, it most definitely is now front and centre of wider media discussions and it is definitely part of the media mix.

Recent challenges have centred on helping the decision makers in the media ecosystem understand native’s potential and how native can integrate into their media plans. The first steps centred on proving that native is more than just advertorial and not a like-for-like replacement.

Beyond the mechanics, providers like us also had to persuade brands, agencies and publishers that native is more than a flashy content glossing over a click-bait campaign. In response to this issue we’re working with the IAB and others to make sure that best practices are followed but also led by those that are shaping this fast moving industry.

Finally, we’ve had to face the challenge of convincing publishers that accepting third party demand is not going to lead to a race to the bottom, and a replica of what some publishers feel has happened in display advertising. Publishers will always have their own voices which brands will want to engage with, but brands also have their own messages which they want pushed out at scale and with true accountability.

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