Is native programmatic counter intuitive?

As brands and publishers attempt to mesh the worlds of programmatic and native together, is its promise of delivering custom experiences at scale a contradiction in terms?

It was this topic that split media heads from Guardian Labs, MailOnline, Karmarama and Plista today (20 April) at an Ad Week Europe panel, each taking different stances on whether programmatic had a part to play in native content.

Since native is the go-to format now - providing many benefits for brands and publishers alike hoping to be less exposed to ad blockers and more creative with campaigns - it seems the next natural step is to trade this advertising programmatically, it was suggested, with Nicolas Bidon, global chief executive of Plista, saying “the only way to process large amounts of data in real time is by programmatic” stating he had “no doubt” the market will go down that route.

Bidon said the reason native and programmatic are coming together is because “the supply is there now”, suggesting programmatic delivers scale which can help deliver the best ROI for publishers and brands, something that is “difficult to demonstrate" with native as it is, according to Watkins.

"I see a lot of value from publishers like Guardian and Mail who know a lot about their audience and can talk to this audience in the right way and in a very valuable context," Bidon said. "However, I would then say you can use those insights and the content you created from those insights to get the best ROI and in my opinion that comes with scale which can come with programmatic and with the ability to find those audiences in many other places - that is the value of programmatic - to find the audience wherever they may be."

“To me those two things are not antagonistic,” he concluded.

Jamie Toward, head of media at Karmarama addressed the issue of programmatic delivering scale at the expense of creative, saying: "You can make branded content that is deliverable in native programmatic that still resonates with people and makes people feel comfortable.”

Anne Shooter, commercial editor of MailOnline, sat on the other side of the fence. Shooter suggested "programmatic native is really a contradiction in terms" because native offerings are very bespoke “and the whole point is that it sits on our site and is integrated into that content”.

“We can distribute further through Facebook but we haven’t done that yet and don’t need to do it, we have offered up to 600,000 views on our content and people want to be part of MailOnline - that is why the brands are coming to us. I think it is my job to make sure that people are on site and reading the content and have no interest in distributing it more widely really unless it is going back onto the site,” Shooter said.

The Guardian has its own programmatic product, Response+, which is used for wider distribution use of its third party data, something Anna Watkins, managing director of Guardian Labs said was “critical” for the publisher.

Watkins instead brought to light the “tensions” she has seen with who is responsible and makes the money on the wider distribution of programmatic, saying “we as a media owner with our own programmatic product are best placed to do it” meaning media agencies are losing out on revenue.

Meanwhile Shooter warned of the implications of too much sponsored content, saying “we will probably have to put a cap on it”. It’s an advertising format that has grown exponentially over the last year, with IAB’s latest figures revealing content and native advertising spend increased by 49.9% to £776 million in 2015. The challenge, said Shooter, is in how much sponsored content publishers can do without turning people off.

“We have seen in the States markets becoming really saturated with sponsored content and then makes people cynical about it. We have to be really careful about keeping the quality high and not allowing our sites to become dominated by too much sponsored content,” Shooter said.

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