In today's web connected society, marketers are constantly finding ways to reach consumers online. Display ads used to be one of the most trusted weapons in a marketer's online arsenal. Sadly, the effectiveness of online display ads has been called into question. With so many online ads being served to customers on a daily basis, many consumers have "banner ad blindness." According to DoubleClick, the average banner ad has only a .1% click-through rate. When you factor in that 50% of clicks on mobile display ads are accidental, the number of viable click-throughs is even smaller. So if display ads are no longer engaging consumers as effectively as we'd like, what's the solution? Many marketers and advertisers are looking to native advertising for the answer.

What is native advertising?

I'm sure many of you have heard the term native advertising thrown around quite a bit in 2014. But what exactly is native advertising? The answer to that is pretty varied depending on who you ask. However, most advertisers and marketers will agree on the following qualifications for native advertising:

  • Native ads are generally content based. With content marketing playing a key part in today's marketing efforts, native ads are an extension of this content development. Native ads are more informational and less promotional .
  • Native ads blend in. To be considered native in design, native ads blend seamlessly with the content around them. They match the design of the space and do not disrupt the normal behavior of the user. Moreover, they should function in a manner similar to the existing content.
  • Native ads are paid for. It's important to note that while native ads should blend in with their surroundings, they are paid for ads and are not intended to deceive the user. As such, native ads should have some form of disclaimer such as "sponsored" or "featured" to alert the user that it is in fact an ad.

What does native advertising look like?

Below are a few examples of native ads:

Twitter native advertising

Facebook native advertising

LinkedIn Native Advertising

Why should I use native advertising?

Native ads offer several advantages to traditional display ads. Native ads break through "banner ad blindness" because they cause the user to process the ad as they interact with the content. According to a study by Sharethrough, consumers looked at native ads 53% more often than display ads. Consumers were also 32% more likely to share a native ad than a display ad. Check out their infographic about the effectiveness of native advertising.

Native advertising also focuses on content marketing. Since content marketing is about creating a dialogue versus a hard sell, consumers are more likely to view the targeted content. Native advertising allows you to feature your content outside of your own channels (company website, social media, etc.). This allows you to recycle content that may not have been used recently, but is still impactful for other outlets.

Challenges to native advertising

Native advertising is still a fairly new avenue for online marketing. Unlike display ads, there are no consistent standards for native ads. Because of this, it is important for companies to maintain creative management over the unique content needed for varying platforms. IAB has created a guide of the 6 most common types of native ads which can be downloaded here.

Native ads also measure less in brand recall than display ads. This is mostly likely due to the fact that a brand's logo is more visible on a display ad than in a native ad, but still something to consider.

Gaining user trust can also take time with native advertising. The best way to overcome this is by making sure your content is relevant and provides value to the consumer and doesn't appear as an ad disguised as content.

There is also debate over whether native advertising degrades the value of true editorial content.

Are display ads dead?

While native advertising is the buzz word of the moment, I still feel display ads serve a purpose. For one, they provide great brand recognition. Just like print ads before them, display ads are a subconscious reminder of brands for consumers. I think the key to a successful banner ad is when it is less distracting and more engaging. A subtle difference but an important one to distinguish.

I also think retargeted banner ads still have something to offer. Retargeted banner ads are behaviorally based and are served to a targeted audience. Though not the same as content marketing, they still have their use in integrated campaigns.

It's still too early to tell if native advertising will cause display ads to go the way of the dinosaur. But in the age of content marketing, it's not a bad idea to consider investing in this area as part of your marketing plan.