Wednesday June 17th || by Tammy Blythe Goodman

Though it is a comparative newcomer to the advertising landscape, native advertising has come to occupy a significant portion of the conversation surrounding digital marketing.  Stellar examples of native ads in BuzzFeed and The New York Times have received a great deal of attention, and last year, John Oliver dedicated a lengthy (if cynical) segment of Last Week Tonight to the topic.  In each instance, native advertising is discussed as something new.  But while the name itself is only a few years old, native advertising actually has a history dating back almost a century—or longer.

Native’s Predecessors: Advertorials and Branded Entertainment

ListerineAdThe precedent for native was first established in the form of print advertorials, which were sufficiently common by 1917 that a nationally syndicated column spoke out against “the paid write-up.”  But the practice gained traction—and acceptance.  In 1927, for example, the Honolulu Advertiser ran an eighty-page advertorial, sponsored by the new Royal Hawaiian Hotel which describes the new hotel’s stunning landscaping and one-of-a-kind millinery shops.  And in the 1950s, the New Yorker often ran cartoons that looked and felt just like one of its signature illustrations—but in fact carried a branded message.

Radio, too, had its share of sponsored content—brands like Kraft, DuPont, and Maxwell House would sponsor entire series, their products’ names featured within the storylines of radio plays, along with the more obvious  sponsorship language that would come at the beginning and end of each episode.  TV further honed the sponsored content model with “branded entertainment”: the news might have been brought to you by Camel cigarettes, and your favorite comedians were likely to appear on the Colgate Comedy Hour.  But eventually, branded entertainment gave way to the “magazine plan,” which re-introduced the idea of interstitial advertising, from multiple sponsors, to television audiences.  Sponsored content again seemed relegated to older print-influenced strategies … or was it?

Native Advertising in the Digital Era

The Internet has created an ecosystem in which sponsored content not only thrives, but also fills an income gap for publishers.  Audiences have become so accustomed to getting online/digital content for free that publishers who attempt to put their content behind a paywall or on a premium platform are often met with limited success.  Much like their print forbearers, then, digital publications have had to turn to advertising to make up for necessary capital not being provided by subscribers.

Traditional online display ads are presented much like their print counterparts—above or alongside content, and easy to overlook or ignore—so much so that the overall click-through rate (CTR) for display ads is less than one in a thousand.  In most cases, then, publishers would literally make more money in Vegas than they would by selling cost-per-click (CPC) display ads.  Fortunately, native advertising, which made its official debut in 2011, flips this model on its ear, harkening back to the century-old advertorial model and creating a kind of compelling ad that engages, rather than alienates, audiences.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this to date is last year’s New York Times Brand Studio piece, “Women Inmates,” paid for by Netflix.  Though clearly marked as a paid post, the multimedia content feels organic to the publication, and though promotional at its core, still provides valuable reading and viewing material for readers.


Where Is Native Going Next?

Native advertising has become so accepted in recent years, thanks to content like The New York Times piece and any number of BuzzFeed lists and videos, that more and more publishers are looking to it as a reliable source of income. For example, Forbes has introduced its BrandVoice Native Ad Platform, allowing advertisers to create content themselves (instead of the Times and BuzzFeed models of creating content in-house). Here at Taboola, we just announced a collaboration with to co-develop native advertising and content marketing offerings for clients.  Even companies that you might not think of as publishers in the traditional sense are getting in on native: Facebook filed for a patent earlier this year on a native advertising exchange, showing that social media, too, has a place in the native landscape.

It’s clear that native is ready to take its next step, away from a clear advertorial model and into new formats and technologies.  In our next blog post, we’ll look at many of the different native formats and possibilities available to publishers—from large publishers’ content shops to third-party options available to small and mid-market outlets.

Looking for native advertising solutions? Drop us a line today.

Tammy Blythe Goodman

Tammy Blythe Goodman is the Marketing Communications Manager at Taboola in New York City. She has over 10 years' experience in the mobile industry and also has extensive experience in public relations and video games.