Native advertising has reached a crossroads. The rapid rise in its popularity over the last few years has brought us to the point at which we are at today; a ridiculously cluttered and confusing marketplace. Native is in a mess and it's no wonder marketers don't know its place or future.
I can't say I was wholly surprised by the findings of a recent survey from Trusted Media Brands Inc (TBMI), implying that fewer marketers plan on using native this year when compared to 2015 (45% versus 50%).
One of the top reasons cited in the TBMI research as to why marketers are planning to scale back on native is the issue of measurement. There are so many different tech specs and requirements on offer, that it's difficult to determine what is the most effective. But here's the rub; as the industry scrambles to try to standardise native, in the same way it would an ad unit, they are actually missing the point. It shouldn't be about the format, but rather distribution. Once you view native as distribution rather than an ad format, you can start to measure and optimise its performance effectively, overcoming the measurement issue, while embracing all formats, increasing flexibility and reach.
Native will always perform differently depending on the format you use, the content you're distributing, the editorial environment you're appearing in, the time of day it's being consumed and even dependent on which device the consumer is using. Acknowledging and evaluating this is and distributing the content accordingly is key to delivering success.
But a vital element here is the content you're distributing. Jumping on the native bandwagon has resulted in the discipline hitting a wall around creativity. Rather than creating bespoke relevant content, too often ad creative is used instead. It might boost ‘ad' performance, but it won't deliver native's full potential and will therefore not deliver optimum ROI.
More importantly, this has contributed to the confusion surrounding the definition of native on the part of media agencies and brands. It has also shaken consumers' trust and damaged native's reputation thanks to content being passed off as editorial when it is in fact clearly advertising. No wonder its popularity is waning.
For too long the term native has been tarnished by the advertising brush. As a concept, it's sound: placing relevant branded content within compatible editorial to add value to consumers' experience and increase brand engagement. The value of native comes from having the insight to be able to hone your content marketing strategies so that you are creating the right content for the market conditions and that it's appearing in the right format, in the right place at the right time.
The development of demand side platforms focused purely on content marketing allied with technology that can map the content space means the tools are now in place to turn this dream into reality and allow native to reach its full potential for brands… and, of course, consumers.