Native Advertising, From TV to the Web and Back Again

Native advertising has existed for a long time as a marketing tactic, well before the term was coined or even known. Although this is typically thought of as an online/mobile ad play, the reality is this is an approach that can work in any media and actually has old school roots. Think about big tobacco sponsoring newscasts and interview shows during the dawn of television. There’s a fine line between product placement and native advertising when you think of Mike Wallace smoking a Philip Morris cigarette on the news set and even praising the brand during the show. There was the Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze.

As time went on, the walls went up between news and sponsored content. Now the walls are tumbling down again and you may be able to point the finger at the growing dominance of digital media. Follow the money, as they say.

By definition, native advertising should match the form and function of the platform upon which it appears. There are plenty of examples in print, ad supplements in the Wall Street Journal and other prestigious publications.

On mobile and social, all the platforms in the world seem to be monetizing with native, in-feed ads, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. The ads that were once special supplements in Time Inc., Forbes, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA Today, are increasingly being placed on line, and every day it seems new advertising integrations are being introduced on desktop and mobile that match both the form and function of their editorial feeds.

It is interesting that some studies suggest people are actually more likely to look at native ads mixed in news content than the actual news content itself. (It’s probably a result of the money and creative energy going into the native ad, making it as interesting and eye-catching as possible).

Banner ads are seen by millions online but have notoriously poor click-through rates. Banner ads disguised as native advertising have a much higher success rate, sometimes ten times more click through than straight commercial plugs.

In terms of mobile, one study shows that 97% of mobile media buyers report that native ads were effective at achieving branding goals.

On TV, you have to give some fair warning that you are about to “leave” the content experience.  There is also a strong parallel between native ads and in-program ads in terms of placement and positioning. TV producers are extremely careful and deliberate about the placement and timing of in-program ads, making sure they don’t conflict with key moments in action, timing or the message of the primary program.

Similar to the way TV programmers and production companies put together brand integration deals, in-program ads allow for close coordination of program content and brand message. These in-program ads can be implemented in the style of the network and mimic the overall look and feel of the broadcast graphics design of the show. Most importantly, they can provide an even higher degree of contextual relevance, because they are perfectly-timed to the content of the program. Similar to what is often seen on Buzz Feed or the New York Times, this is a far more labor-intensive form of native advertising, but the economics can often justify the effort. Thoughts, questions, comments? I’d love to hear from you.