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Native Advertising – A Brief History & How it Found a New Home on Mobile

Marissa Delisle
Marketing Specialist at Digital Turbine
Sep 22, 2017

Traditional advertising, whether broadcast on television or radio, published in a newspaper or magazine, or hosted on the Internet, has always been viewed as somewhat of a necessary evil.

We don’t like paying for content, so we tolerate advertising, and because of this difficult relationship between advertisers and consumers, adverts have to be really good (in terms of both content and targeting) if they are to drive significant engagement.

For brands, advertising is expensive, difficult to make and strategically position, and it can be very hard to track its overall effectiveness. For consumers, advertising is obtrusive, often irrelevant and, at times, just plain annoying.

As a result, “traditional” advertising is something that many consumers have simply learned to avoid.

Fast Forward the Ads

Before TV technology allowed us to fast forward past advertising messages, commercial breaks gave us the opportunity to grab a quick snack from the kitchen or simply take a “comfort break” from our viewing. As advertising moved into the online arena, our avoidance strategies became more brutal. Nearly 60 percent of all Internet users between the ages of 18 and 34 (and 11 percent of the general Internet population) employ ad-blocking technology, enabling them to consume their content in an ad-free environment.

Note: In 2016, it was estimated that ad-blockers wiped out more than $41 billion of revenue earning opportunities for online publishers. This doesn’t mean traditional advertising is dead. The potential to reach huge swathes of the population with compelling campaigns is still there – but as the market constricts, advertisers need to up their game in terms of messaging, targeting and how they use analytics to prove advertising’s worth. Advertisers also need to move with the times and that increasingly means focusing their efforts on social media and mobile channels.

Advertising Evolves and Goes Native

As the traditional advertising market faces continued disruption from changing consumer habits and advances in technology, advertising professionals have been forced to look at different methods of presenting brands and products to their target audiences.

As a result, native advertising has become an increasingly popular advertising strategy which brands are turning to in an effort to influence their buying public.

What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is a “paid for” advertising placement that fits the form and function of the media on which it is displayed. By its very nature, it is not obtrusive and therefore does not interrupt the viewer or reader. Instead, it is actively consumed alongside the content it is positioned with.

Native advertising takes many forms and can commonly be seen as advertising features (often referred to as advertorials) in the print media, sponsored posts on blogs and social media channels and even product placements in TV and film.

James Bond – Licensed to Advertise

In 2012, the US division of the Heineken brewery reportedly paid the producers of the James Bond movie Skyfall a staggering $45 million to swap Bond’s favorite tipple from a martini (shaken, not stirred) to a cool, refreshing beer. The James Bond franchise has long been associated with product placement, working with major brands including BMW and Omega watches to help position their products.

But the history of native advertising in film goes way back. Even before Sean Connery graced our screens in the first ever Bond film in 1962, James Dean famously slicked his hair back using an Ace comb in the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause – sending sales of the men’s grooming accessory soaring.

Native Advertising – Always in Fashion

For many years now, the fashion press has worked with designers and cosmetic brands and featured their products in colorful, image-led features highlighting the latest trends and color palettes, blurring the lines between editorial and advertising.

As trends are increasingly influenced by online celebrities, designers and brands are switching their focus, providing product and payment to high-profile social media influencers and YouTubers to endorse their brands.

Note: Native advertising goes beyond simply providing products for editorial review. As a paid advertising strategy, brands have full control over how their products are positioned and will issue guidelines to their media partners. As such, native advertising should always be highlighted as a paid promotion. In reality, this is often overlooked.

Why Native Advertising Works

Perhaps one of the reasons why native advertising works is that many consumers (some would have the figure as high as 49 percent) don’t realize that they are actively being advertised to. As a result of this lack of awareness, their defenses are down and they are more likely to be drawn into the narrative of the campaign and influenced by its propagator – who is more than likely a person they already like and trust. This is half the battle in advertising – people buy from people they like and trust.

Not a Cheap Alternative

Native advertising shouldn’t be seen as a cheap alternative to traditional “above the line” advertising. It’s all about putting the right message in front of the right people at the right time. This often means partnering with high profile influencers who can sometimes challenge traditional media organizations when it comes to their advertising rate cards.

According to a recent article in Forbes, top YouTube influencers can demand upwards of $300,000 per video partnership. Even micro-influencers (for example an Instagram user with a 100,000 followers) can pull in upwards of $5,000 per post.

Content Recommendation

Native advertising is all about creating a narrative around a product or brand and ensuring it reaches as wide an audience (within its given niche) as possible. However, as more brands develop more complex, multi-channel content marketing strategies, competition for eyeballs on their content becomes increasingly challenging.

This has created an opportunity for companies like Outbrain and Taboola, who partner with high-traffic sites (including many “traditional” news channels, many of which are facing a decline in print advertising and subscriptions and looking for new ways to monetize their content and generate new streams of income), to create new advertising platforms designed to drive traffic to branded (and other) content.

By positioning headlines, images and links to recommended content using similar styles, fonts, etc. as used by the host online publisher, content recommendation advertising platforms can create a less obtrusive, more “native” advertising experience. However, they have also become increasingly associated with “low-quality” content-led sites employing “clickbait” strategies designed to drive revenues with more aggressive and equally low-quality advertising.

Publishers and Broadcasters Go Native

It’s not just advertisers who are taking a more “native” approach to publishing. A number of high profile publishers and broadcasters are positioning their content directly on social media channels like Facebook in exchange for a share of advertising revenues. Services like Facebook Instant Articles and Facebook Live create a more seamless and much quicker user experience than clicking to a third-party site. Aside from the benefits of placing content on such a highly-trafficked social network, it also allows publishers to effectively outsource revenue generation (advertising sales) to a much more efficient operation and concentrate on producing great content.

Native Advertising Goes Mobile

As advertisers increasingly look towards mobile devices to engage their audiences, it should come as no surprise that mobile environment offers a compelling native advertising experience.

The pre-loading of apps on new mobile devices enables app developers and marketers the opportunity to seamlessly integrate their products with the “un-boxing” experience of owning a new phone or tablet. There’s no pushing or pulling or cajoling users to search for and download a specific app. It’s just there – like it was always meant to be there, easing the process of discoverability and user engagement.

And because pre-loading enables app developers and marketers to target specific audiences based on mobile providers, device type and geography – it offers a more “laser-focused” advertising solution than many other native opportunities provide. It’s also worth remembering there are no guessing games when it comes to tracking activation and the possibility of fraud is greatly reduced.

When combined with traditional outreach programs via social media, content marketing (blogging, YouTube, etc.) and PR, native pre-loaded apps will be greeted as familiar faces and make user engagement even easier.

But don’t just take our word for it. Native pre-loaded apps powered by Digital Turbine have enabled companies like games developer Jam City and ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft reach millions of new, highly engaged users.

We Speak Mobile like a Native

To learn how your app could find a new and potentially lucrative home on millions of new mobile devices, speak to an advisor at Digital Turbine today about pre-loading and the many advantages of the native mobile experience.