The just-completed IAB MIXX Conference & Expo 2013 themed “Advertising is__________?,” explored the changing definition of advertising, with the two days focused on showcasing competing points of view, highlighting their differences, and looking for points of commonality. As part of this debate, the IAB convened a discussion on “Native Advertising: Fact and Fiction,” with the similar goal of creating a framework for understanding this hot new concept. This session complements the work of the IAB Native Advertising Task Force, a group of companies 80+ members strong who are working to establish a framework for the native advertising space by putting forth a prospectus that clearly lays out today’s “native” landscape. This prospectus, targeted to advertisers, publishers, and ad tech providers, will provide a focused, guiding light to the industry while being broad enough that it can expand over time. In addition, it will provide a basis for further IAB initiatives in this space.
While the Task Force plans to publish their work in the fourth quarter, the IAB MIXX session attendees were given a sneak peak and chance to comment on the Task Force’s early findings. A panel of industry stakeholders led the feedback: Task Force Co-chair Patrick Albano, Vice President, Sales, Yahoo!; Steve Kondonijakos, Sr. Marketing Director, Federated Media; Stacy Minero, Leader, Content Marketing, Mindshare; Steve Rubel, Chief Content Strategist, Edelman; and Geoff Schiller, Chief Sales Officer, Hearst Digital.
The session kicked off with a discussion of the duality of “native advertising,” with the concept encompassing both an aspiration as well as a suite of ad products. On the one hand, we all aspire to deliver “paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated with the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.” On the other, tactically, advertisers must use ad products to achieve this, and the IAB Native Task Force has identified six categories commonly used today in pursuit of this goal:
1. Search Units, e.g.
2. Promoted Listings, e.g.:
3. Recommended Content Units, e.g.:
4. In-Feed Ads, e.g.:
5. In-Ad (IAB Standard) Units, e.g.:
6. Custom, e.g.:
The group discussed at length the core dimensions of ads that feel native, including form, the extent to which the ad fits with the overall page design; function, how well the ad matches the editorial feel of the content in which it is nested; and technology, the degree to which the viewer can treat the ad like they can any other content on the site. Amid a spirited debate, consensus is emerging that you can achieve a native experience through three, two, or even one of these, depending on the site, brand message, and audience mix.
There was a great deal of enthusiasm in the room about the unique benefits that the advent of “native” has brought to display advertising. First and foremost, display advertising has been freed from the “ad ghetto” of the right rail and leaderboard to which it has long been confined and now has license to settle anywhere on the page. The horse is now out of the barn, and advertising will not be forced back into solely those positions. A corollary benefit of this move is getting advertising into the user’s natural activity stream—where print and TV advertising have always been. Allowing the viewer to interact further without leaving the site is much preferred to clicking through to a new website. Finally, “native” is decidedly and overwhelmingly a form of brand advertising, a category that display has long fought with marginal success to conquer.
The lively conversation provided useful feedback to the IAB Native Task Force. Audience members encouraged the IAB to find the right balance between standardization and customization—giving enough firm guidance to help make the market, but not too much to stifle it—while best practices around disclosure were also highlighted as a need.
Have we answered the question, “Native Advertising is__________?” The IAB Native Task Force and feedback for the IAB MIXX session clearly show that there is real agreement around what it is not: a single, uni-dimensional ad product. Rather, it is an end goal—an aspiration—that folks seek to attain via a number of paid advertising tactics. The IAB Native Task Force will absorb the advice and carry forward the enthusiasm of the IAB MIXX session as it works to publish the IAB Native Prospectus that details these principles in the fourth quarter.
About the Author
As the Head of Brand Initiatives at IAB, Peter Minnium leads a series of initiatives designed to address the under-representation of creative brand advertising online. He can be reached on Twitter @PeterMinnium.