How to solve native advertising's scale problem

Consumers have had banner blindness since well before the term was introduced to our industry a decade ago. Most recently, banner blindness has forced publishers and advertisers to join forces and produce "native ads" that look and feel more like content than traditional ad units. In fact, brands are going one step further by experimenting with being publishers themselves; hiring editorial teams to produce content for their own sites and social media outlets.

Sometimes, this comes in the form of repurposing a positive review of product from an objective third party. If a credible media outlet has given a brand or product great press, content-style advertising is an ideal way to get that message out to a target audience and to keep the story in the mainstream.

While such new content-focused ad opportunities are generating plenty of buzz, advertisers are still running into the same problems as publishers themselves. Namely, they're trying to figure out how to drive scale.

One option is to buy content-style ads on credible news and information sites that drive users to the content. That may sound counterintuitive, but rather than employ a tired banner strategy, successful brand publishers are supplementing their native and paid content with units that are in or near editorial to attract the highly engaged audience they are after. This is most easily done at scale by purchasing ad inventory from the handful of companies that focus on syndicating content style ads on major news and content site inventory, including Outbrain, Taboola, and Adblade.

Advertisers aren't looking for any old consumer -- rather, they are looking for consumers who read, take a deep dive, and spend a lot of time on the page. Native advertising is designed to resemble content -- think of BuzzFeed or The Atlantic's recent foray with brands like IBM. The goal is not to simply show a message and have the consumer move on, but for the consumer to read and engage with this content (which should hew very closely to the brand's message).  But, native's scale limitations often make it a non-starter for many advertisers if it must be customized on a site-by-site basis.

Buying in-content or "near content" advertising attracts the right kind of audience as native advertising does, but with scalability. Ads placed adjacent to, or at the bottom of, articles appeals to this audience, because they are very likely to move from one piece of content to the next. This is how Google's AdSense has scaled over the years. But, AdSense also has its limitations -- namely, in its text-only palate and lack of transparency to both buyers and sellers.

Whereas banner ads at the top or alongside content may distract, units lower on the page attract the eye when the consumer pauses and move them toward the next item -- in this case, the brand's content on another page. By aligning with similar content on premium sites, brands are even more likely to drive more traffic to their branded content, justifying the expense of creating it.

This strategy works tremendously well for brands. Corporate sites or blogs don't necessarily attract large audiences, and hiring journalists to produce online content can be as expensive as a native ad buy. Using ad units to drive traffic to this content attracts an audience that can then be measured using basic web analytics tools that look at time spent on a page and traffic. It's a simple way to justify the investment from a marketing standpoint. This is perhaps a far better way of measuring ad success than low click rates on IAB display ads.

Native advertising and branded content have passed the credibility test. Publishers need this kind of advertising to stay operational, and audiences have shown their acceptance. But as rates climb and advertisers get more competitive, they will need to drive as much traffic to this content as possible to justify the investment. Engaging with consumers within other content environments is a great way to attract readership, and supplementing a major native investment with precise content ad buys on reputable sites at scale is a great way to do so.

Ash Nashed is CEO of Adblade.

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