When is native advertising not just glorified advertorial?

One question that continually comes up in meetings we have with agencies and advertisers when discussing native advertising is: is this just a glorified advertorial? And isn’t native just a buzzword that people are jumping onto in the buzzword bingo of digital marketing?

Buzzfeed is renowned for its native advertising

My answer to these questions is, one: there are indeed many similarities between native and advertorials – a form of advertising that has been in steady use offline since the start of press way back when. But there are also many differences between the two formats. And two: yes, many networks and vendors are jumping onto what they see as the next big thing in online advertising. Some of these are truly native, others are simply trying to breathe life into their waning display offerings by adding native.

The native ad of today brings all that we know and love about digital to the advertorial format: accountability, ROI, impressions, clicks, dwell time, social sharing, earned media and more.

It also allows creativity over copy, at scale. Brands can be immersive and reactive like never before, while showing real accountability. It's no longer about being creative just to be creative; it's about being creative to drive accountable results. It’s a breath of fresh air for digital brands that have been restricted by banners and search text ads.

Users have been bombarded with poor display ads for many years now and with real data that users are clicking less, most of the industry has reacted by making bigger and pushier ads – hardly what consumers and clever brands are after. Native now gives brands the opportunity to cut through the clutter and become the content. This throws up its own issues, but ones that can be addressed with a joined up creative content strategy and native plan. And it is content and the distribution plan for that content that is at the heart of native.

Native is at risk of being wrongly defined and pigeonholed in the UK advertising market as it stands. Currently many vendors are attempting to call all things native. What native is not is the plethora of networks/platforms that have simply added native to their pre-existing formats or those networks/platforms that have simply taken the same display/video ad unit they have been selling for years and simply moved it into the middle of a page. This is not native; this is simply moving an ad unit to be ever more intrusive.

Native ads are very much in vogue. But is native just the latest fashion trend, the skinny jeans of digital media? Trends come and go, in digital marketing as in fashion, but my view is that native is here to stay. Native, in the advertorial format, has been here since newspaper publishing began remember – as those criticising native advertising are so keen to remind us of.

Native is timeless in a sense, and in its new digital guise offers an alternative to display that can be more immersive and engaging than any other form of online advertising that has come before. Less skinny jeans then, more little black dress.

Francis Turner is commercial director and co-founder of Content Amp

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