Anna Watkins Guardian Labs Web Summit

Content, tech and data - the trinity of world class native advertising

By Anna Watkins | managing director

November 7, 2015 | 4 min read

I took part in the Restless Natives panel at Web Summit 2015 in Dublin on Wednesday (4 November) alongside Sriram Krishnan, head of mobile monetisation at Facebook and Liron Shapira, chief science officer and co-founder of Quixey, which was ably chaired by Aine Kerr, managing editor at Storyful.

Anna Watkins, Guardian Labs

We covered three broad themes – the definition of native advertising, the impact of technology on the sector and the use of data in developing relevant content solutions.

What was clear from the outset was that there was still a broad consensus across each of the key themes, despite each of us coming from different, but intersecting, corners of the media; publishing, social media and a mobile technology company.

In terms of defining native advertising, we agreed that this could be described as the creation of rich, relevant and engaging content that seamlessly flows within the overall user experience and editorial content of the platform and publisher.

This led us on to emphasise the importance of trust and transparency. Trust in that the platform and publisher must be credible, must lend an authoritative voice to the content; and transparency in that the division between church and state, what is and isn’t editorially independent and commercial content, is clearly labelled and defined for the audience. We all agreed that without the trust and quality content, there is no reason for your audience to keep coming back to you and that keeping this credibility and value exchange with the user is paramount.

As with any discussion around native advertising, our focus was rooted in technology. We touched upon the seismic shifts in our output as we follow our audience onto mobile and as a result mobile, meaning in many instances also video, and within that vertical video.

To ram home this point, we highlighted a couple of startling statistics: 2015 has seen time spent with digital video overtaking all other digital activities including social media and mobile video views are set to grow by 44 per cent this year and next.

For the Guardian, given we are now seeing over 50 per cent of our audience viewing our content via mobile devices – meaning that mobile and mobile video are a priority rather than a nice-to-have if the budget and the client is willing.

Last but not least we agreed once more on the critical importance of data. Not just in terms of identifying and targeting an audience but more importantly in understanding our audience, developing content that is relevant to them and therefore more engaging. Although not one of us believed that we had developed the silver bullet when it comes to evaluating ROI on native, we were all clear on the increasing opportunities presented by access to first party data.

At Guardian Labs, we are launching a new approach to data, with an upcoming tool - Audience Explorer, our live data planning, optimisation and evaluation tool, which will transform the way we can inform our clients and prove ROI beyond staid metrics.

We rounded up the session with a snapshot on our focus for the year ahead. For Guardian Labs it was one word – data, and it was interesting to hear my panelists talk about platform-agnostic ‘people marketing’ and pushing the boundaries of software capability and creating interactive ads.

So in short, what unites the publisher, social media platform and mobile software player is the belief in the powerful combination of content, tech and data to create enriching and relevant experiences for audiences and it is that trinity that enables us to create world class native advertising.

Anna Watkins is managing director of Guardian Labs.

Anna Watkins Guardian Labs Web Summit

More from Anna Watkins

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +