Digital advertising tactics continue to evolve, but there’s one that seems to be growing faster than any other – “native” advertising. Second only to display ads in usage, native advertising was estimated to be a more than $3 billion industry in 2014. In a nutshell, native advertising is sponsored content on a website or social media platform that mimics the host page’s layout, design and content. A more cynical type might call it “camouflage” advertising. At first glance, it can be difficult to determine what is an ad and what’s not. But the goal isn’t deception; it’s to increase brand awareness in a more subtle fashion than display ads – which are often immediately ignored. Some studies suggest that native ads have similar viewership rates to editorial content, and the format seems to enhance brand awareness by getting more “eyeballs” on a brand in a repetitive fashion.
The technique isn’t new – print “advertorials” are basically the same concept, and have been around almost as long as the printing press. And like advertorials, native ads offer more than just a brand mention or a strategically placed logo. Native ads often feature content a visitor might find helpful or interesting, generally related to the topic a visitor is already searching. The tactic seems to be working for brands, which continue to invest more of their budgets in native ads. But the real winners in the native advertising game have been media outlets. After years of revenue crisis as the traditional print model all but vanished, digital media platforms are cashing in on native ads. Online-only platforms like the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed are pioneers in native advertising space, but traditional outlets, like the New York Times and the Washington Post are getting in on the action too. Native ads have undoubtedly been a boon for media outlets, but are brands getting their money’s worth? With surging numbers of brands utilizing native ads, it sure looks that way.
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