Advertising is always most effective when it is well integrated into the customer experience. Over this past year, programmatic buying and native advertising (both popular buzzwords in our industry) have taken two very different approaches in enabling marketers to create engaging and relevant experiences for their audiences — one by using data, and the other by masquerading as content.
However, regardless of the channel or advertising strategy, the overall brand goal generally remains the same: to reach audiences, evoke brand experiences and, essentially, sell more products. The better the experience, the greater the chances are that you will meet your brand goals. However, none of this is possible without scale.
Even with roughly 73% of publishers offering native advertising across their sites, advertisers are more likely to buy their audience via real-time bidding (RTB), no matter what site their audiences are on, vs. buying from a particular publisher.
Native advertising can be done one of two ways: either with custom advertising, which encompasses custom units within a publisher’s site, or integrated ads, which can come in the form of sponsored tweets and/or other types of ads strategically worked into the publisher’s content.
Citi Bike is a great example because it is both custom and integrated, which is the nirvana of native advertising.
Programmatic & Real Time Buying
On the other side of the fence lie programmatic and real time buying (RTB), which offer a scalable solution for marketers based on data and which make custom advertising seriously challenging.
If you only know who your ad is reaching, and don’t know exactly where the user is seeing the ad (i.e., because you are buying media via ad exchanges), then it becomes very difficult to customize the experience on a site-by-site basis. The technology used to enable this kind of customization is not on anyone’s deployment horizon.
Integrating Programmatic & Native
Even integrated advertising is difficult to implement, as it requires different types of creative for different opportunities. What native advertising needs to succeed is an oxymoron: custom integrated advertising that is standardized for scale.
In practice, this means that if you have a huge audience (think Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) then you can achieve the oxymoron because your custom advertising has a greater opportunity to reach your audience (i.e., larger percentage of the total available population). The only other plausible option is to develop a standard ad unit that can seamlessly incorporate into content so that it can integrate across enough publishers to scale.
Where programmatic and native are most likely to intersect is through programmatic premium, where publishers and marketers may be able to combine each of their strengths, instead of separating the two, and offer high quality content, enhanced relevancy and unobtrusive advertisements at scale.
Just in the last few months, we’ve seen announcements from ad tech companies (OpenX, Nativo, TripleLift) that offer products and technologies aimed at bringing together native and programmatic. Similarly, one of the first agency trading desks, Vivaki, has introduced “Audience on Demand Native,” which focuses on buying native ads in a more efficient and scalable way.
On the publisher front, if you haven’t incorporated programmatic into your inventory, you are already behind. Time Inc. recently announced expanding its private ad exchange, while Forbes CRO Mark Howard shared that programmatic buying and native advertising from BrandVoice will be key growth areas.
Other large publishers that have claimed to make changes include The Washington Post and Meredith, both of which have hired specific executives to lead programmatic efforts.
There is evidence that premium publishers are starting to place a larger emphasis on programmatic buying, which will begin to bridge that gap between custom units, such as native advertising, and and real-time, data-driven advertising. Even though these two trends can co-exist, I do think it will be some time before native takes on the characteristics of programmatic buying.
Programmatic Vs. Native
While some may argue that programmatic represents a better strategy for marketers to understand and engage their target audiences, others favor more content-related marketing approaches such as native advertising.
The answer is that there should be room and budget for both. Whichever strategy you choose, you should make sure to leverage data and ad targeting alongside any custom advertising strategy or you may find your brand lacking scale, and therefore, not reaching audiences and selling enough products.