Today’s column is written by Madhura Sengupta, director of ad product technology at Edmunds.
There are countless arguments over the ethics and even definitions of “native ads,” especially as the lines between advertising and content blur. Native ads have posed as articles (advertorials), recommendation widgets (“around the web”), sponsored listings, banner ads dressed up in custom CSS and in-feed units.
While users expect fast, relevant and unobtrusive ads, advertisers judge publishers based on performance, fraud and viewability metrics. More premium publishers are beginning to create walled-garden native platforms in order to outperform the traditional banner ad and shield themselves from major obstacles of the digital advertising world, including ad blocking, viewability and latency.
But how can publishers prevent these native ads from becoming just as annoying and destructive to the user experience as the traditional display ad they purported to improve? To succeed, publishers need to first properly set up their native ad infrastructure before communicating these changes clearly with their users.
Set Up The Native Ad Infrastructure
There are several benefits to a component-based system. Creatives can be resized responsively across devices and reshaped for the look and feel of specific publisher pages. Publishers can also enforce limits on the number of tracking pixels on each creative, which will decrease load times and enhance user experience. Finally, since component-based creatives give publishers more control, they are often more secure than ad tags that are hosted on a third-party server and help protect users from malware and other ad fraud concerns.
Now that advertisers are submitting various components of each ad, these components need to be assembled into templates. Continuing with the Facebook example, the news feed contains various templates, such as multiple-image carousel ads or single-image sponsored stories. Each template outlines character constraints, font sizes and styling for every component. While this does reduce flexibility and customization from an advertiser, the creatives look clean, consistent and uniform on the publisher’s site. This creates a more seamless integration with content and endemic user experience.
While a component-based asset system has many benefits, it also creates significantly more overhead for a publisher to assemble each ad. Instead of manually configuring each component, for example by using Photoshop, publishers can build or commission a platform to automate this production. Ideally, this platform should also push the ads into an ad server, such as Google’s DFP or the publisher’s content management system (CMS), in order to gain workflow efficiencies.
Some platforms, such as TripleLift, also allow external advertisers to build their own native ads. Whether publishers allow external advertisers to build their own native ads or work through internal account management teams to assemble assets, it is critical to build preview functions, approval steps and a direct line of integration with serving the ads.
One of the loftier goals of setting up a native ad infrastructure is to combat ad blockers. While publishers are exploring the idea of serving native ads directly within their CMS instead of using a typical ad server such as DFP, it is probably the most challenging from a technical, sales and industry adoption standpoint. Advertisers will have to gain trust in publishers’ measurements, attribution, reporting and analytics.
In addition, a traditional publisher CMS does not have the advanced targeting and decisioning capabilities of an ad server, so marrying the two may be a very complex task. However, as more sites move toward personalization of both content and ads, site-serving native ads can start to become a reality.
Communicating With Users
Once a native ad infrastructure is in place, publishers should strive to personalize native ads to achieve more relevancy. One way to accomplish this is to build an ad system that is capable of performing decisioning based on user profile data and page-level inputs. For example, if we know a user is a Ford F-150 shopper and primarily viewing blue trucks of a certain trim level, his ads can be tailored accordingly.
Publishers should also provide transparency around audience data usage. First-party or third-party data may be used to serve more contextual and relevant advertising. However, as users become increasingly concerned about their privacy, it is good practice to shed light on how their information was collected and used, as well as provide an option to opt out of remarketing ads. A prevalent example of this is the blue AdChoices icon indicating that ads are targeted using third-party data about users’ Internet browsing history.
Last but not least, publishers should be careful to ensure that native ad formats are not deceptive. According to the recently released FTC guidelines, “an advertisement or promotional message shouldn’t suggest or imply to consumers that it’s anything other than an ad. If a disclosure is necessary to prevent deception, the disclosure must be clear and prominent.”
Both publishers and advertisers have a unique opportunity to create native content that blends into the user’s online experience and doesn’t pester them like the traditional banner gnats they want to swat away.
In doing this, however, it is also important to maintain and respect the user by clearly labeling promotional content. Advertisers should be transparent and explicit in making it clear where their content comes from. The content will be all the more trustworthy for it and, as an extension, so will the brand. Publishers should feel excited about taking more control of what is being served on their sites – creating their own advertising ecosystem which will deliver fast, dynamic and relevant advertising that their users enjoy.