Are digital advertisers going native?

Native advertising is causing a blur between ads and content, and the trend's growing popularity is prompting the advertising industry to sit up and take notice

e4m by Sonam Gulati
Updated: Mar 5, 2014 8:34 AM
Are digital advertisers going native?

The growing popularity of native advertising is fast blurring the lines between ads and content. Native ads use promoted/ sponsored content on social media platforms, seamlessly integrate to the kind of content that is being consumed and subtly deliver the brand’s message. This approach prompts users to look at the ads as content pieces rather than ads, thus making them reluctant to simply ‘trash’ them.

The formats of these ads match both the form and the function of the user experience in which it is placed, making them seem less intrusive and more likely to get noticed. Popular examples of native ads are Facebook-sponsored stories, Twitter-promoted tweets, branded videos on Youtube and several other such ads that are intrinsic to the nature of content. By virtue of the format, these ads are less interruptive, integrated and strong on the contextual base.

The most popular medium for native advertising is turning out to be social media. According to a study by IPG Media Lab (, 32 per cent of the respondents stated that they would share a native ad with their circle of friends; whereas only 19 per cent stated that they would share a banner ad. The important requirement for these ads to be noticed is that the content should be very strong and original. Samar Verma, Co-founder, Fork Media stated that the trend is certainly a challenge in the Indian market. “Most advertisers still don’t create that kind of content. While internationally the challenge is just limited to distribution of the content, in India the challenge is both creation and distribution. You have to make brands aware of the importance of such content that can be used in native ads,” Verma said.

In terms of spends though, numbers are not hugely shifting towards native ads, but more and more publishers are realizing its growing popularity. While the earlier trend used to be only search marketing and social media marketing, native is now a big part of the digital spends. In the Indian context, however, native advertising is seen as content marketing. “About two years ago, content marketing was an alien concept, but today a decent chunk is being spent on content marketing,” Verma added.

Is it just a brand enhancement tool?
The pertinent question arising is whether the trend is limited to being an engagement tool or is lead generation possible via native ads since it is contextual and editorially-inclined? Verma stated that this model will only work for brand engagement and won’t really work with customer acquisition or lead generation. “This is a tool for brand upliftment, but in our heads that is defined as ROI only. It could move to a hybrid model in future, but prima facie, content will always drive engagement and not acquisitions or leads,” he added.

As per the IPG Media Lab survey, native ads did register an 18 per cent higher lift in purchase intent and nine per cent lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads. Another statistic from the survey states that consumers looked at native ads 53 per cent more frequently than display ads.

Native ads on mobile
It is not only the brands that are realizing the importance of native ads. Advertising networks are also keen to hop on the bandwagon. Last month, mobile advertising network InMobi launched its native ads platform.

Dippak Khurana, CEO and Co-founder, earlier stated that going forth native advertising will be a key driver in mobile advertising as well. “Native advertising on mobile will undergo a lot of customisation, as marketers will closely emulate and leverage the characteristics of the mobile environment, for instance, an app or a site wherein the content is featured. We will see native mobile ads being more mainstream, as these ads with the right content and context will be designed to merge seamlessly with the app to not interrupt the user experience. This will ensure that users perceive mobile ads as a rich, engaging experience, as it will reduce the stark transition between content and ads,” he stated.

Another player in mobile rich media advertising, Ripple’s Co-founder, Anuj Kumar also advocated the growing popularity of native ads on mobile. “Mobile advertising till now has had defined boundaries between advertising and content. We expect these lines to blur, thus creating a much larger marketplace for native ads. We need to look no further than the Facebook newsfeed ads to estimate how dramatically this could alter the industry and create ad opportunities with greater social context and much higher impact,” he said.

According to Verma, BFSI, telecom and youth brands are using the trend more. “BFSI has always been active on content marketing. Like insurance companies that create content around how insurance is indispensable and thus attract users. The other category that is actively suing native advertisements is youth brands like Vodafone, Idea, Axe and more. One sector that has completely stayed away from native is automobiles,” he added.

While over the past decade advertisers have been loyally investing in display ads and pre-roll ads, it now seems that native advertisements are soon going to take over from here. Not only do native advertisements serve as a better mode for brands to reach out, but also give users some respite from mindless, boring advertisements. While currently, textual content is more popular in native, image marketing and video marketing will soon be making an appearance, experts opine.

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