There's no question that native ads are all the rage these days. According to a recent eMarketer report, spending on native ads could reach $4.57 billion by 2017. That would be quite a jump from last year, when marketers spent an estimated $1.63 billion on native ads.
Of course, the term "native ads" can be somewhat hard to define. The same eMarketer study pointed out that marketers tend to lump a lot of different formats and tactics into the native ads category.
"Most perceive native ads as purchased ads that mimic content in the venues in which they appear," the study said. "They are more entertaining and less interruptive than traditional ads, and hopefully popular enough to get shares. Common examples of native ads include Facebook Sponsored Stories, Twitter Promoted Tweets, branded videos, and other ads that appear in the content streams of media sites such as Forbes.com and BuzzFeed."
Still, the definitional debate rages on. Over at Mashable, Todd Wasserman recently suggested that the term "native ads" is just another way of saying "good advertising." And last year, Wasserman posted an infographic designed to explain what native advertising is and is not. The infographic is worth your time, but once you spend more than a few minutes working through the graphic to determine whether or not your own ads are native, you realize we're a long way from a working definition. That might sound like semantics, but it's important to take the definitional problem with a grain of salt when considering claims that native ads outperform other formats. After all, those claims don't mean much if we're not doing an apples-to-apples comparison.
But for all the hype surrounding the native ad debate, marketers shouldn't lose sight of the fact that today's publishers are offering a range of creative services that complement, and at times rival, those offered by agencies. But unlike with agencies, the creative services advertisers can buy directly from publishers tend to be publisher-specific. That is, each publisher works a little differently. That is why we checked with four leading publishers to find out what kinds of creative they're putting together for brand clients.