When is an ad not an ad? Well, an ad is an ad is an ad, as they say, but sometimes the ad blends so well with the look, content and editorial style of the page on which it appears that readers don’t know that what their looking at is an ad at all.
And, because they don’t feel like the creator of the ad is trying to sell them something, they tend to believe and be more trustful in the content of the ad, and for that reason, more likely to click on the links within it and, eventually, to make a purchase.
There’s a name for this strategy. It’s called native advertising.
What Is Native Advertising?
There are numerous definitions of native advertising. Outbrain provides one of the most useful:
“Native advertising is the use of paid ads that match the look, feel and function of the media format in which they appear…Unlike display ads or banner ads, native ads don’t really look like ads. They look like part of the editorial flow of the page. The key to native advertising is that it is non-disruptive – it exposes the reader to advertising content without sticking out like a sore thumb.”
Does Native Advertising Really Work?
Because native advertising blends so seamlessly with surrounding content, most readers think they’re looking at a non-advertisement. This is one of the keys to the success of native ads, and they are effective. Consider for example these metrics from CMO:
- Consumers on average are 25% more likely to look at a native ad vs. a display ad
- Consumers are significantly more likely to share native vs. display ads (32% vs. 19%, respectively)
- Consumers are 18% more likely to purchase products after viewing native ads
- Rich-media native ads consistently outperform banner ads across all engagement metrics
The Rules of Engagement
Of course, some native ad campaigns perform better than others. The ones that achieve the best results follow best practice strategies, including the following 4:
- Creating quality content: quality content is compelling, concise and, most important, designed to connect with your target audience
- Knowing who your audience is: strong native advertising content is never generic; it’s written to appeal to key market segments, and to respond effectively to their questions, needs, and concerns
- Knowing what your campaign is trying to achieve: your native advertising campaigns should have goals which are specific, measurable and attainable
- Measuring results: some of your native ad campaigns will be more successful than others; monitoring ad performance will enable continual improvement as you double down on what works and delete or amend ads which are not performing as well
Are There Examples of Stellar Native Ad Campaigns?
The head-turning stats above mean, of course, that some native advertising campaigns have been outstanding results, including the following 3:
1. Guinness: Mastering Native Advertising in Print
Guinness made quite a splash with its “Guinness Guide to Oysters” print ad campaign. The ad aligned perfectly with the print medium in which it appeared, the only clue to sponsorship begin the brand name in the ad. Beyond this, the ad presented content consumers could use—in this case, a detailed description of nine varieties of oysters. The result: increased brand awareness and revenues for Guinness.
2. IBM: Perfect Alignment in an Online Advertorial
IBM successfully polished its brand with “As Big Data Grows, a New Role Emerges: the Chief Data Officer.” IBM successfully extended its reputation for technological excellence by carefully aligning its ad into the editorial style of The Atlantic, in which the ad was displayed. The vast majority of Atlantic readers no doubt missed the only clue to the fact they were looking at an ad—a very small inclusion of the word “sponsor content.”
3. Leveraging Sponsored Content: H&R Block Meets the Onion
The Onion is what you turn too when you have an interest in current events—and want a good laugh. Political spoofs like “Trump Claims He Tried To Warn Public About Epstein By Praising Him As A Terrific Guy” are what Onion aficionados are looking for, and H&R Block jumped on their bandwagon with its own “Onionized” headline, “Woman Going to Take Quick Break After Filling Out Name, Address on Tax.” Forms.”
This native advertising story perfectly matches the legitimate H&R Block banner ads which surround it. Onion readers, unable to spot the difference, clicked on the ad in droves. The ad copy contained no call to action, but successfully helped the tech giant show it has a sense of humor, and gain brand awareness in the process.
The bottom line is when effectively positioned among legitimate editorial copy, native ads are remarkably successful, having surpassed banner ads as the leader in online advertising, something forward-leaning advertising agencies have known for some time.