Giant step up: the native ad by Ugg on the Bazaar website had results that beat traditional display ads tenfold. Photograph: Bazaar
Native advertising is one of the world’s fastest growing media channels. The reasons are well documented: a precipitous drop in banner click-through rates, severe reductions in print ad revenue and newsstand circulation, and an overwhelming need to shore up declining publishing business models with new forms of revenue.
Alongside this is the fact that native advertising – where an ad matches the form and function of the user experience and feels less intrusive – is pulling up trees in terms of reader engagement and click-through rates (CTRs). Hearst Publishing, which has 300 magazine titles to its name, let the cat out of the bag with its disclosure that a native ad campaign within Harper’s Bazaar achieved a CTR of up to 1.5%; that compares with the US industry average of 0.1% on traditional display ads.
The Harper’s campaign featured a trend collage ad to promote the Ugg Collection by Nordstrom. Readers who clicked on the ad, running on the Fashion Channel, were brought to a gallery of Ugg shoes headlined “12 Cozy-Chic Shoes You Need Now”.
The ad opened up to a product description page allowing readers to share the content and buy the shoes. Results beat traditional display ads tenfold. By any stretch, this is a phenomenal uplift.
It’s not only Hearst that is seeing strong results. The native advertising specialist ContentClick, whose widget offers sponsored links to relevant content, is averaging CTRs of 2% across its network of 500 publishers and bloggers. In fact, for some larger publishing clients, ContentClick has achieved CTRs of 5%. It’s no surprise that Sir Robin Miller, the former chief of Emap, has joined to become its non-exec chairman.
What’s driving native advertising success? Far from being intrusive or misleading, native advertising is giving readers what they want. It’s providing content that’s highly relevant, perceived to be of value, and shareable across social media. It ticks every box because it offers content that would be read anyway – but it’s monetised as an ad rather than editorial. Say Media, itself an exponent of native advertising, has recently offered seven platforms doing native advertising well which highlights some great examples of the genre.
So where’s the problem? Not one exponent of native advertising has let slip that the channel is platform- and device-dependent. I’ve seen conversion rates that have halved simply because native advertising has been served up on the wrong device.
In fact, if a native advertising landing page and payment mechanism isn’t tailored for smartphones, you can expect product sale conversions to plummet. Consumers simply will not fiddle about ordering products on their mobiles unless it’s rendered as a very easy and seamless process. Yet how many native advertising campaigns ignore this?
What’s worse is that when it comes to evaluating these native advertising campaigns, device optimisation is often not considered as a factor, skewing results massively if mobile readership is high.
In my experience, and having been shown the back-end dashboards of more than one native advertising platform, the channel can be split into two categories:
1. Ads that drive readers to other, relevant content (brand advertising): These native advertising campaigns are much less platform-dependent because the reader is simply consuming more content on the same device. CTRs are high, often very high, because the reader wants to read this content anyway, and whether it’s called an “ad” or “editorial” is by the by.
2. Ads that ask readers to input info or payment details (direct response advertising): The success of these campaigns is hugely platform-dependent and their success lies primarily on whether content is consumed on PC, tablet or smartphone. All have to be optimised to capture data and sales as easily as possible, especially smartphones. Without this, conversion rates and results will suffer massively.
The implication for publishers are significant. If native advertising campaigns are going to be offered to media agencies and advertising clients, a publisher must evaluate the goal of the campaign and ensure that the campaign works cross-platform on all devices. Campaigns will succeed or fail on this one point alone.
What’s more, publishers have a duty to protect their readers’ experience and only offer native ads that work cross-platform, especially if the campaign involves a landing page/payment. Otherwise not only will native advertising CTRs drop but the customer experience will be damaged. It’s that simple.
Murray Newlands is a manager at the Content Marketing Consultancy.