Modern consumers are becoming increasingly adept at tuning out aggressive, disruptive advertising. This has led digital marketers to seek new and creative ways to engage their target audience. Amongst the most promising of these emerging strategies is native advertising—a format that seamlessly blends into the user's natural viewing experience.
But native advertising isn't some shiny, brand-spanking-new strategy cooked up in a digital marketing laboratory. In fact, it has a long and colorful history – one that spans decades and crosses a range of different platforms, mediums, and industries.
From the days when people relied on black-and-white newspapers for their daily fix of information, to the golden age of radio when catchy jingles ruled the airwaves, all the way up to the digital dominion we now inhabit, native advertising has always been around, transforming and adapting with each passing epoch.
In this blog, we'll first take a journey through time to explore the rich history of native advertising and how it has continuously adapted to the demands of each era. Following that, we'll examine the current state of native advertising and discuss a few of the techniques that publishers and brands are using in a bid to make their native ads as successful and effective as possible.
So, without further ado, let's start at the very beginning of the native advertising story.
A Brief History of Native Advertising
As the wheels of time turned and advertising evolved, native ads took on various forms, captivating audiences across different mediums. Let's take a journey through the evolutionary tapestry of native ads:
Advent of Advertorials
The roots of native ads can be traced all the way back to the early 1900s when advertorials – ads that masquerade as editorial content – first began appearing in print magazines. Advertorials were a clever concoction of marketing and journalism, allowing advertisers to promote their products or services in the guise of an informative article.
Cadillac's 1915 advertorial in The Saturday Evening Post was a shining example of this format. Created by Theodore F. MacManus, the ad was an impassioned ode to the spirit of progress and advancement, with nary a mention of Cadillac or even the automotive industry. The only giveaway that it was an advertisement was the subtle logo placed in the corner. But despite its lack of overt branding, the ad was deemed radical for its time – and even today, advertising professionals consistently hail it as one of the best ads ever created.
In the roaring 1920s and 1930s, a time when radio and TV ruled the infotainment sphere, native advertising began to take a more audible shape. Businesses would regularly fund radio programs to propagate their marketing message.
A momentous event in this advertising revolution was the debut of the renowned "Eveready Hour" in 1923. This groundbreaking radio program, sponsored by the National Carbon Company, swept the airwaves via the illustrious WEAF radio station in New York. Beyond captivating the audience with its selection of entertainment, the program also weaved in advertisements for the company's prized Eveready Batteries into its segments.
Television Takes the Stage
As television emerged as the dominant medium in the mid-20th century, native advertising followed suit, adapting to the visual storytelling potential of the small screen. Early adopters of this brave new world of television advertising included multinational consumer goods company, Procter & Gamble.
P&G's pioneering strategy involved underwriting a slew of drama series, such as 'The Guiding Light,' in exchange for subtle product placements of their soaps and detergents, hence coining the term "soap operas." Families gathered around their televisions, eagerly following the trials and tribulations of their favorite characters, in the process, absorbing the sponsored messages seamlessly woven into the storylines.
The 80s were a pivotal moment in the history of native advertising. This was when the iconic infomercial– an advertisement structured as a program – first made its debut. Late-night television became a breeding ground for enthusiastic hosts and pitchmen hawking everything from kitchen gadgets to exercise equipment in an entertaining, educational format.
Leading the charge was Soloflex, the first-ever company to air an infomercial. The ad revolved around a common scenario – how to get in shape without joining an expensive gym. The infomercial was a tremendous success, thus giving birth to a wave of "as seen on TV" products.
Native Advertising in the Digital Age
When native advertising stepped into the digital age, it took on a whole new level of sophistication and relevancy. Although the basic premise of native advertising remained the same, digital media opened up a multitude of possibilities for brands to enlist in their quest to reach potential customers. Some of the biggest developments in native advertising's digital evolution include:
The rise of search engines in the early 2000s ushered in a new era of native advertising, as brands capitalized on Google's sponsored ad slots to promote their products and services. This gave birth to the concept of contextual targeting, allowing advertisers to reach out to users based on their interests and search queries.
Branded Content And Sponsored Articles
The proliferation of digital publishing in the 2010s led to the emergence of sponsored content, as brands began partnering with publishers to produce articles and videos in sync with the native content of their favorite websites. Digital media powerhouses such as BuzzFeed and Mashable, for instance, have made sponsored content an integral part of their business models.
One of BuzzFeed's most iconic examples is their "11 Reasons Why The Year 2000 Was The Best" article, which was sponsored by Tic Tac and featured a vote for the company's next flavor at the end. This article perfectly encapsulates how Buzzfeed and its brand partners have managed to meld sponsored content with their regular posts, creating an immersive native advertising experience for the reader.
Traditional publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have also recognized the potential of sponsored content, catering to advertisers by crafting specially-branded articles and videos for their readers. This move further solidifies native advertising's position as a mainstream advertising medium, as even the most venerated news sources join in on the fun.
Programmatic Native Advertising
Sharpening the targeting abilities of native ads even further is programmatic advertising, which uses algorithms to automate the process of buying and selling ads. This has allowed marketers to personalize native ads based on the user's browsing pattern, resulting in higher engagement and better ROI. Programmatic native ads have also enabled brands to target a much wider audience, making their content more effective and relevant at scale.
Video is the next big frontier in native advertising. Viewership of digital video content has grown exponentially over the past few years, and wise brands are already capitalizing on this trend through native video ads.
In fact, a survey by eMarketer revealed that in 2022, native video advertising accounted for a whopping 56% of all digital video ad spending in the United States. Furthermore, projections indicate that native display spending will experience a robust 12% year-over-year growth in 2023.
The power of native video ads lies in their ability to captivate viewers with compelling content while keeping them engaged with their interactive nature. Just take a look at Taco Bell's "Belluminati" campaign—an ingenious example of a native video ad that used humor and a conspiracy-theory narrative to promote its new $1 menu items.
Techniques for Native Advertising Success
A study conducted by Kantar and Taboola reveals that the inclusion of native advertising in the marketing mix led to a 25% increase in brand awareness. But as digital native advertising matures, getting your ads seen and acted upon is becoming harder and harder. Here are some of the key tactics that you can use to make sure your native ad campaigns hit the mark:
Research, Research, Research
A fleshed-out understanding of your target audience is the first step in executing a successful native ad campaign. Knowing who your target audience is and what they like allows you to craft an advertisement that resonates with the viewers, increasing the chances of them taking action.
Once you've identified your audience, you can start getting familiar with the platforms that will host your ad. Each platform comes with its own nuances and restrictions, so it pays to do your research beforehand.
Your ad should be engaging, approachable, and interesting – but above all, it should be authentic and relevant. If your ad looks too much like a blatant sales pitch than an exciting read, it will turn the viewers off.
People want to be informed and entertained – not sold to. So, focus on creating an ad that's helpful and educational. Frame your message in a way that adds value to the viewer's experience, and ensure that the ad fits in seamlessly with the content of its hosting platform.
Measure Your Success
It's not enough to simply create an ad and put it out there. Just like how your employees need regular performance evaluations to know if they're doing well, your native ad campaigns also demand frequent audits to ascertain their success.
Continually analyze metrics such as engagement, CTR (Click Through Rate), CPC (Cost Per Click), and CPA (Cost Per Acquisition). These metrics will indicate how well your ads are performing and how effective they are at driving conversions. Then, refine and optimize your campaigns based on the insights gathered from these evaluations.
Leverage Digital Tools
The digital advertising toolkit is brimming with powerful resources that can give your native ad campaigns a much-needed boost. Some note-worthy tools include:
- Workflow Automation. These tools empower you to automate repetitive tasks, optimize collaboration between team members, and ensure seamless project management. All you have to do is find an automation system that integrates with your current tech stack. Additionally, prioritize tools with a low learning curve or, even better, ones that offer a low-code or no-code config, making them accessible to users with varying technical backgrounds.
- File Management Systems. File managers play a crucial role in preventing the organizational chaos that can arise when dealing with creative assets and collaboration documents, especially when working with large teams. Proper file management systems allow you to share documents in real-time and ensure everyone is working off the same page. Most filing tools also provide granular permissions control, making it easy to protect sensitive information.
- Ad Management Software. With a full-suite ad management tool like MarinOne, you can optimize the delivery and performance of your ads in real time. Comprehensive solutions like ours reduce the need for manual interventions while providing end-to-end visibility into your ad campaigns. Advertising automation tools allow you manage budgets, bids, and placements and help you pull reports to analyze the performance of your ads, all in one place.
Future of Native Advertising
Native advertising in the digital age is only going to get more sophisticated. As machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to evolve, marketers will be able to leverage these technologies to create more contextual and intelligent native ad experiences. It’s also likely that native will continue to expand beyond the current platforms, with more interactive and personalized formats appearing over the next few years.
No matter what the future holds for native advertising, one thing is certain: the adaptability and scalability of native ads will keep them at the forefront of digital marketing for years to come. So, if you haven't hopped on the native ad bandwagon yet, now is the perfect time to do so. Embrace native ads and make them an integral component of your overall marketing strategy.
Yoshiro Kichiro is a guest contributor to the Marin Software blog.