Native advertising is taking the European digital advertising scene by storm. After five years of exceptional growth, native ad spend is expected to reach €13 billion across Western Europe by 2020, accounting for over half of display, but Alex McIlvenny, UK country manager for Ligatus explains how the industry is a little slow to adapt to it.
Designed to blend with their environment native ads are unobtrusive and contextually relevant, which gives them an enhanced ability to fuel user engagement and purchases. What’s more, in the wake of the YouTube scandal earlier this year – when ads were found to be appearing alongside extremist and inappropriate content – native’s strong links to brand safety make it especially enticing for marketers.
But there is one surprising thing about native’s current usage, slow programmatic adoption.
Despite the potential for large-scale ad trading and user-friendly native to create a winning duo, programmatic native spend remains modest. Indeed, a recent report shows only 8% of advertisers purchasing from the top 200 digital publishers invested in it last year. Usage is particularly low for multi-market executions, with the technology largely still being used in regional siloes.
So, what’s slowing down programmatic native, and should it be moving faster?
The adoption hold up explained
Many reasons have been given for current industry reticence and chief among them is the concern that programmatic native could be misleading. Built to match with their surroundings native ads align closely with editorial content and for some this raises anxiety about user confusion, and concerns that readers may feel ‘deceived’ into clicking on ads that aren’t clearly signposted.
When it comes to programmatic specifically apprehension mostly centres on brand safety. While brands worry ads placed beside inappropriate content could damage their reputation, publishers fear poor quality ads could erode the trust and authenticity linked with native. And these issues are further compounded by a lack of understanding between the two sides: with buyers feeling publishers are not investing sufficiently in necessary infrastructure, and sellers claiming marketers aren’t ready to embrace the native approach.
As for multi-market executions applying a programmatic strategy across a region as technologically and culturally diverse as Europe is often seen as an insurmountable challenge. Individual countries have differing levels of programmatic understanding, technological sophistication, and inventory availability, not to mention distinct cultural climates.
Programmatic native: uncovering the truth
In the face of so much bemusement and conjecture the truth of programmatic native can be hard to decipher. In brief, it’s an efficient and effective channel for delivering tailored ads at scale and is set to dominate the future of the digital advertising industry.
For further clarification we’ll need to take a detailed look at the benefits it delivers.
Firstly there’s user engagement. By complementing publishers’ style and content, native programmatic ads work with — rather than disrupt — their environment. As a result, users see ads that interest but don’t interrupt them, and brands can make deep connections with their target audience. And contrary to popular concern, studies show that users react positively to content-led marketing, if brands are upfront. So, provided that native content is presented as sponsored, it can definitely be more effective than other ad formats.
This brings us to the second plus point: safety. Although programmatic ads have hit the headlines for quality issues, not all automated ads are unsafe — and particularly not native. Many publishers who decide to support native typically do so because they want to take a subtler, more secure and user-centric advertising path that keeps audience loyalty high and dissatisfaction low.
It is, however, important to note that brand safety isn’t always guaranteed. For example, ads served on social media platforms could inadvertently appear alongside unsuitable user-generated content, which is notoriously difficult to control. Consequently, it’s vital for brands to make wise trading and technology choices, selecting programmatic partners with robust safety measures — such as strict publisher inventory analysis to keep ads away from fraudulent and inappropriate sites.
While running pan-European programmatic campaigns may seem problematic given the unique climate of each market, native programmatic effectively provides the answer to this challenge. Because native advertising adapts effortlessly to the screen or device on which it is viewed and blends seamlessly with the content within which it appears, it naturally delivers a localised experience while maintaining consistent messaging across the whole region. Because programmatic has increased the efficiency of native it is now possible to deliver unified messaging across multiple markets and languages, with ads tailored to the needs of individual consumers.
By and large programmatic native has hitherto been a misunderstood advertising channel. Hampered by industry confusion, adoption has inched upwards at a slow pace, but rapid digital evolution is set to change that. Users are increasingly indifferent to brash ads and, consequently, advertising is taking a less invasive path. And as scale and multi-market executions become ever more crucial for European brands and publishers to remain competitive, it is inevitable that programmatic native will rise to the top of the industry agenda, and transform the future of advertising.