The Lowdown on Native Advertising

Modern Marketing


Native advertising, or ads that mimic the visual format/content of its environment, has lately been the marketing term du jour. From suggested posts on Facebook to paid promotions on Pinterest, it’s how brands are using relevant, contextual content to build trust and engagement with consumers. Basically it’s the “anti-ad”…as an ad.

Companies like LinkedIn, Instagram, Spotify, and Yahoo! are not only partnering with brands to create native ads, but are also buying other companies to help with content and delivery. In the space of two days last month, Yahoo! Purchased mobile analytics provider Flurry, and LinkedIn purchased Bizo, a data management and targeting technology. While Yahoo is seeking to up its mobile game with Flurry, LinkedIn says it will “integrate Bizo’s offerings” into their own content marketing products, creating powerful relationship-building solutions for brands.

One thing’s for sure – native advertising is a big business. In fact, it was recently estimated that native ad spending on social media would grow from $3.1 billion in 2013 to $5 billion by 2017. But before brands dive head first into the deep end of native advertising, let’s take a look at the promises and the pitfalls.

Deep Personalization

Spotify is currently experimenting with what I’m calling “hypercontextual” native ads. Earlier this year, they acquired a music intelligence platform called The Echo Nest to help deepen its understanding of how listeners discover music. A few months after this acquisition, Spotify revealed three new video ad features focused on “Moments,” which they’re testing with the likes of Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Kraft. By sponsoring a “moment,” brands can leverage big data to identify a user’s activity – a workout session, for example – and offer them a playlist suitable for running or working out.

Your music moments spotify

Preserved User Experiences

As we blogged about earlier this year, Pinterest started testing “Promoted Pins” with brands like ABC, Expedia, and GAP. At first glance, Promoted Pins are indistinguishable from other pins. Meanwhile, Instagram has launched highly selective native ads with a small number of brands, and encourages those brands to use photos Instagram users would actually post. For example, Showtime – in addition to snaps of its stars at premieres or on the set – recently posted a photo of Masters of Sex stars Michael Sheen and Lizzie Caplan on the cover of a 1960s-esque magazine. It has over 800 likes and 70 comments to date.

master of sex instagram

Do We Trust It?

Despite all the efforts to create a personalized experience, we still don’t trust native ads or sponsored content, according to a new survey from Contently. Two-thirds of survey respondents said they felt deceived when they realized an article or video was sponsored by a brand. Just over half said they didn’t trust branded content, regardless of what it was about. A whopping 59% said they believe that a news site that runs sponsored content loses credibility.

So… To Native Advertise, or Not To Native Advertise?

Proceed with caution – it’s a pricey (and new!) endeavor. But there’s no doubt that native advertising helps you reach your audience where they already are, creating a seamless, non-disruptive experience. And of course, mind the normal rules of engagement – be relevant, be timely, be authentic.

Do you have a native ad success story? Share it with us in the comments.