Native advertising is big business these days. It represents a welcome good-news story for an advertising industry reeling from the twin assaults of ad-blocking software and growing public immunity to traditional ads. The days when a transitioning banner ad was enough to secure plentiful click-throughs appear to be over.
Online promotions that resemble normal user-generated content (despite being paid for by advertisers) might represent an insidious blurring of formerly distinct boundaries, but they’re going to be a key marketing trend throughout 2017. A Business Insider report recently predicted native ads will generate almost three quarters of all advertising revenue in just four years’ time. Native ad expenditure will increase by $3.3 billion this year in America alone, over and above 2016’s record $13.9 billion outlay.
This expenditure can be split into three distinct categories – sponsorship, native-style display ads and social media content. The latter currently dominates this industry, though native-style display advertising is growing more quickly both in monetary value and as a percentage of native ad revenue. Native-style display ads are typically found in web page sidebars and footers, with the tell-tale word “sponsored” beside them. At their best, they carry interesting promotional stories; at worst, they’re tacky clickbait.
By comparison, social media native ads are less obviously advertorial. They might be sponsored tweets, or Facebook News posts from a particular brand. Sponsored content is even less overt – commissioned by brands yet presented by an external author, tapping into the fact that people now trust strangers more than big business. Taking this one step further, user generated content can represent a win for everyone, with consumers seeing their material widely promoted while companies circulate organic and entertaining content that’s also comparatively cheap to acquire.
Native advertising can take written or multimedia forms, from infographics to blogs and streaming videos. Music streaming services are experimenting with sponsored songs and radio stations, while curated content in streaming services is ripe for sponsorship deals to be struck. The ad industry watched closely last year as Pokémon Go successfully spearheaded augmented reality, a concept that has been bubbling under for years. Pokémon Go was generating $10 million in ad revenue per day at the peak of its popularity, and 2017 is bound to see rapid growth in AR advertising as agencies seek to exploit this relatively untapped market.
Science represents one way in which native advertising might seek to improve its credibility this year. A one-page advertorial about computer technology can finance the rest of an eight-page IT supplement in a broadsheet newspaper. Companies who undertake or fund research or studies can present their findings as informational, and then promote it on social media as being worth reading – despite those subtle acknowledgements of who paid for it.
As 2017 progresses, expect to see more examples of the New York Times publishing paid posts about the realities of women only prisons (to promote Netflix’s prison drama Orange is the New Black), or General Electric celebrating its involvement with the Apollo space missions in a series of unique articles. Native advertising is unquestionably here to stay.