A Response to Brian Colbert’s Native Advertising Op-Ed in Digiday

Brian Colbert’s op-ed in Digiday about defending native advertising’s premium value gets the message right: if publishers get caught up in the hype, native’s value could go the way of the banner – and take a lot of hard-won brand trust with it. Just how close are we to this adpocalypse? The answer is in the data.

Reading the trade press and attending industry conferences, you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone but you is making their living off native advertising. The buzz has been a constant hum for months, punctuated by some big announcements, from BuzzFeed’s near billion-dollar valuation this summer to the NY Times crediting a 16% bump in ad revenue to their native efforts. Just this week the ANA reported 63% of their members plan to increase their budget for native advertising in 2015.

But as dramatic as those successes are, native advertising is still far from ubiquitous: Based on our findings at MediaRadar, fewer than 15% of ad-supported sites are even selling native ads today. Penetration by product category too is light. For example, even among technology brands, 8 out of 10 have yet to take the native plunge. The Food category shows one of the highest native adoption rates, but is still just 15% of the total food advertisers.

Still, we agree with Colbert’s premise: if the rapid adoption of native formats floods the market with inventory, prices will crash, just as they did with banners. The law of supply and demand will persist, even with native. In their rush to get on the native bandwagon, will publishers choose “more” or “better”? As we study the market, we’re seeing some of each.

Buzzfeed makes the listicle look easy and it works great for them, but it’s not right for everyone, and in the wrong context it will be as superfluous as another banner.

In our research, we’ve come across some cause for optimism, however. Many publishers have recognized the native format as something special, and have given us some great role models. As more advertisers begin to explore opportunities with native advertising, we encourage them to look to some of the early innovators as inspiration. The NY Times & United Airlines effort was as effective as some of the non-sponsored NYT editorial -- readers chose to view it more than 200,000 times. SB Nation’s compelling video content and subtle branding for Nike delivered the ad message without sacrificing editorial standards. And Slate & Wells Fargo kept comfortably within the Slate voice with their long-form article.

We’ll be watching carefully to see which road the others take – here’s hoping it’s the one with high CPM’s for all.


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