Native advertising has been one of the hottest buzzwords in digital advertising in recent months. Falling returns on standard display advertising has led website owners to look for ever more innovative ways of driving increased engagement, and thus value, from their screen inventory. Retargeting, new banner formats and native have all been part of this trend, but it’s native that has garnered the most attention.

This leads to the immediate question, what is native? At its most basic, native advertising is essentially a reinvention of what, in the days of paper and ink, we would have called advertorial. Using editorial-type content in the style of its host publication to tell a brand story can drive increased engagement from readers and thus enhanced advertising value.

The perceived success of native has in part been because some of its leading advocates – notably BuzzFeed – is seen as a publishing success story. However, it’s also partly because some publishers have caused ructions by failing to adequately differentiate their native advertising from their editorial content. This can be a particularly sensitive issue when the advertiser in question is a controversial organisation such as The Church of Scientology.

For advertisers, the limitations of traditional native, however, lie deeper than just risking the integrity of the commercial/editorial wall. One of the prerequisites of effective native advertising in its advertorial sense is that it must be integrated into the host publication completely in order to be successful. Simply dropping your corporate brochure copy onto BuzzFeed isn’t going to drive engagement and therefore isn’t going to create the value you need. Instead, if BuzzFeed is your target, you’ll need to tell your corporate story in their voice – normally as a ‘23 funniest cat pictures on the internet’ piece, or similar.

Tapping into the Power of Niche

Quite apart from the applicability of cat pictures to most brands, this integrated and bespoke approach is hugely limiting when it comes to running campaigns at scale.  Developing, creating and approving a bespoke piece of brand editorial that remains compelling for its readers, is hugely time consuming. That’s fine when you’re looking at a single publisher partnership but rapidly becomes burdensome when you’re running a campaign looking to reach a wider audience across multiple sites.

This issue of scaling native becomes even more important when you look at another of the rising publisher trends, that of niche content. It’s increasingly being recognised that readers are most engaged with their favourite niche sites that talk specifically about their passions, whether that be business, golf or hang gliding. Advertising on these niche sites therefore gains you the sort of advertiser engagement that the larger, generalist sites can only dream of.

However, if you want to tap into the power of niche, the cost of going native is quickly going to become prohibitive.  If you’re drafting bespoke copy for tens or even hundreds of niche sites then the ROI is going to become ever harder to stack up.

The answer is to look at native in a new way. If traditional, advertorial native is going to be too time consuming, you can develop a hybrid approach that offers the scalability of display with the content richness of native.

The solution that many advertisers have chosen brings together content and display in a new way. It deploys content from a selected partner publisher to use within the context of a large scale banner format such as the IAB’s Rising Stars unit. It offers links to contextually relevant content alongside brand advertising, within a standard display format, letting advertisers scale their campaigns whilst offering some of the rich engagement opportunities of native advertising. 

When the user clicks through on one of the content links within the display inventory, they are taken to the partner publisher’s site where more brand advertising is displayed around the target content, creating new branding and engagement opportunities.

The Best of Both

This solution, whilst perhaps losing some of the bespoke integration of true native, brings much of its engagement whilst solving the scalability problem. Advertisers can serve native-style adverts across hundreds of sites using partner publisher content rather that creating their own. In this way they can access the power of niche publishers combined with the engagement of native type advertising.

The solution also benefits publishers. Whilst site owners love the enhanced value of native inventory, the creation of bespoke solutions is just as time consuming and complex as it is for advertisers. Display-based native, however, lets them generate enhanced value inventory from standardised ad units, letting them scale alongside advertiser campaigns.

Clearly there will always be a role for the purest forms of native content – when you’re working with a large, highly brand-relevant outlet or one that speaks directly to a significant percentage of your audience; then the ROI calculations will allow the creation of bespoke solutions. However, when you’re looking to enhance response rates across a scalable campaign covering multiple sites, this new approach to native can bring the best of both worlds.