Native Advertising – Key Trends for 2018

January 22nd, 2018

If 2016 was the year in which native advertising broke into the mainstream, then 2017 was a year of consolidation. More and more brands experimented with the format, and high profile media sites found ever more ingenious ways of incorporating branded content into their offerings.

Much of the momentum was fueled by predictions like this from The Economist, which suggested that traditional online display advertising would disappear within a decade. Other media companies also reported a decline in display advertising revenues and looked to native to make up some of that shortfall.

Just to underline that the online advertising world is as complex as ever BuzzFeed, which had done much help establish native and was one of its biggest champions, acknowledged its limitations and for the first time began accepting traditional display ads. The move, however, didn’t prevent the company from missing its revenue targets.

So, which direction is native likely to go in 2018? Here are a few trends which I think will influence how it will develop.

Don’t forget to book for the CMA Digital Breakfast on February 14th which will look at native advertising in greater depth.

Native Advertising Digital Breakfast

Facebook’s changing news feed

As brands entered 2018 one of the biggest topics of conversation among marketers was what to do about Facebook? The changing nature of the news feed has meant that algorithms now promote stories from family and friends over pretty much everything else. For a few years now brands have found organic growth on the platforms difficult without an ad spend. There is a school of thought among some marketers that Facebook might not be worth the effort full stop.

If that is the case the brands are going to need other sources to promote their content, and these could range from working with media companies on native stories, through to promotions via content recommendation systems like Outbrain and Taboola.

Of course Facebook clearly needs advertising revenue to continue to thrive, and it is highly likely that we will see interesting innovations from the platform this year to re-calibrate that relationship with brands. It could be though that brands – and media companies too – may have decided that their money is better invested elsewhere.

Growth of programmatic native

On one level the growth of  native has been fueled by notions of quality – placing high ticket branded editorial against appropriate content. Yet in order to make up for the shortfall of traditional display brands need to be able to scale this – hence the rise of programmatic native advertising. The key advantage for brands here is that it allows marketers to place advertisements in a way that seems intuitive to consumers. In other words it makes life a lot easier for both brands and agencies.

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Surprisingly then programmatic native advertising has grown at a slower rate than some experts had predicted. Perhaps this is because of a reticence on behalf of media companies to work with programmatic native feeling that that it might in some ways cannibalise the revenue they are receiving from their in-house branded content studios. Scaling native in this way also places heavy, and perhaps unwelcome, content demands on brands and agencies.

Bigger players are now getting involved in  programmatic – Doubleclick started to offer programmatic native ads in mid 2017 – and platforms like Pinterest and Twitter have opened up to programmatic native in addition to the higher profile publishers who have already adopted it. So perhaps 2018 will see it continue to emerge with media companies working out ways in which they can differentiate it from their higher ticket branded content.

Ecommerce and native

A third way that native advertising could evolve in 2018 is to see more of an emphasis on ecommerce. Mainstream media has become increasingly interested in ecommerce over the last few years and we have seen interesting innovations such as Business Insider’s Insiders Picks. Ecommerce is likely to become more important from a native advertising perspective as we will see more content promoting products which can be bought directly from the page. Some of the content will be created by media companies, some by brands and agencies and intriguingly some might be as a result of a partnership between the two.

Look out too for ecommerce based native advertising startups like Bringhub which harnesses machine learning and the company’s own  technology to analyse content and serve ecommerce ads based on contextual matching. StackCommerce and Criteo are also working in a similar way and are well worth keeping an eye on.

Ashley Norris, Consultant Editor, The CMA

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