If you're at all associated with the digital marketing industry - whether as a marketer, or for your own business - and if you've been venturing out from under any geological-type monoliths lately, it's likely you've heard the term native advertising thrown around once or twice. First we had social, then we had mobile - with native ads on the scene, it's time to once again whip out our magnifying glass and find the explorer's map as we set out to find out if, indeed, native ads are the new "big thing".
The terminologyWhile native advertising is the term heard most often, you might've also heard our latest guest at the dinner table referred to by some of her pseudonyms: custom content, sponsored content, or branded content are other terms that when we put them all together, really places native ads back under the bucket of content marketing, a key focus in digital marketing of late. That's because native ads are precisely those two elements: brand, and content. The term denotes ads (namely, paid advertising) that are designed to appear "native" to the website or channel that they are featured on, as part of the site's content strategy. At their core, native advertisements are quality content combined with a paid advertising strategy.
So, have I ever actually seen these things?Chances are in the last day or so - more likely, the last hour or so - you performed a Google search. There's also a high likelihood that you're among the billions of humans in the universe with a Facebook account. Put that together with the chances that you browse popular media outlets, and the native ads have been staring you in the face for quite some time. Native ads are everywhere:
- Social Networks: The most popular, and certainly the ones you might be most familiar with, are Facebook's Sponsored Posts, which show up in the newsfeed alongside posts from your friends, and brands you've chosen to Like. While the content appears identical, the little "Sponsored" text at the bottom indicates that this piece, while native to the news stream, is still a paid ad. Similarly, promoted posts on Twitter appear as standard tweets, but have been paid for by the brand.
- Content Publishers: The King of all native ads, Buzzfeed, is often the first to spring to mind; Their "sponsored by" posts, together with their brand partners, are wildly popular despite being clearly denoted as created by brands like Visa, Ben & Jerry's, or Purina. Forbes' "BrandVoice" platform enables partner corporations to create branded business related content, and The Awl's network of sites have partnered with Buzzfeed and Thought Catalog to disseminate sponsored posts, as well as produce unique content for specific brands.
- 3rd Party Apps: Spotify's desktop streaming app has opened new opportunities to digital advertisers, who can now feature a paid application built on Spotify to create added brand experiences or playlists, designed with the user in mind.
- Search Engines: While paid search ads will long remain in the category of SEM (search engine marketing) forevermore, let us not forget that the granddaddy of all native ads may well be a Google search result, powered by AdWords - after all, a paid search listing looks almost identical to an organic result; is native to the user experience, and paid for by the advertiser. Arguably, that's a native ad.