Thursday July 23rd || by Matt King

Business meeting, brainstorming in flat style.

Beyond its reputation as one of the industry’s leading buzzwords, native advertising has recently warranted serious attention and investment from technology companies and publishers alike. Over the past few weeks alone, the New York Times discussed plans to double its branded content business, Turner Broadcasting unveiled a new branded content studio for CNN and HLN, and The Daily Mail, WPP and Snapchat announced plans to launch a native advertising agency called Truffle Pig.

In June, Taboola’s SVP of Business Development, Paul Jelinek, joined several industry leaders for a roundtable on “Native Advertising: Assessing the Current Landscape,” hosted by digital media consultancy PluggedIn BD. The conversation addressed some fundamental questions around the roots of native advertising, ways to define its many different forms, and how the market might evolve in the coming months.

Does anybody really know what ‘native’ is?

AdAge recently published a list showing over a dozen different ways that publishers and media companies disclose their native advertising to consumers. This muddled (and sometimes conflicting) understanding of the emerging format can cause confusion amongst online audiences when they encounter pieces of sponsored content around the web.

The roundtable participants were adamant about the need to better hash out these definitions, before people begin putting up their blinders in the same way they did for banner ads. Carll Tucker, founder and CEO of The Daily Voice, described his company’s process of placing clear, prominent disclosures above the branded content that appears on his roster of hyperlocal news sites.

Although there was a consensus around the need for full disclosure, the prospect of industry standardization may be beside the point. Jason Kleinman, SVP Guardian Labs & Brand Partnerships at The Guardian, noted that “standardization and native are actually contradictory,” given the definition of native content as “organic” to the host publisher, integrated in a way that mimics the style and form of a particular site (e.g. BuzzFeed listicles, The Onion’s satirical news).

Harnessing the unique opportunities around ‘native’

Many of the participants asserted that native advertising provides a better user experience than previous digital ad formats. Investopedia CEO Dave Siegal reiterated native’s superiority over the infamous banner ad, and Bustle SVP of Marketing & Operations Kai Hsing noted the powerful position of a differentiated media brand like VICE, who can lend a bit of its special “cool” to branded partners. Patty Carnevale, Director of Account Strategy & Development at Upworthy, explained that the popular “mission-driven” viral content site has abandoned traditional ads altogether in favor of more engaging formats.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 4.23.58 PM“Adding to the improved user experience is the flexibility with which native advertising can be leveraged by brands,” said Taboola’s Paul Jelinek. “While banner ads may only have been effective at high-level brand awareness, branded content can engage audiences at all stages of the sales funnel, driving a variety of different goals, such as email subscriptions, lead generation, purchases, and more.”

Operating within a highly fragmented media ecosystem, publishers are in an increasingly powerful position given their ability to foster large and dedicated audiences. Kleinman mentioned there is additional value in publishers aligning with like-minded brands. For example, branded content promoting Nissan Leaf may be especially relevant and valuable to The Guardian’s “green”-friendly audience. Capitalizing on these types of special synergies could be a growth driver for publishers moving forward.

Looking into the (near) future for ‘native’

The roundtable discussion ended with a prompt to predict what “native” will look like 18 months from now, a difficult task provided that the space is still rapidly evolving.

Following the booming growth of mobile traffic around the world, many participants predicted that brands will begin developing mobile-only content marketing campaigns. And as audiences continue to spend more time across different social networks, publishers and marketers may need to become comfortable with platform-agnostic distribution strategies (embracing offerings such as Facebook’s Instant Articles or Apple’s News).

Some participants quipped that in 18 months, we won’t be using the term “native” anymore, because we’ll be calling it something else. Indeed, as the market continues to evolve, “native” might spring a host of new buzzwords, with more specific applications, crystallizing the exciting space into something more multi-faceted, but clearer, and poised for even bigger future growth.

Taboola has been at the forefront of this industry shift, developing new offerings for brands and publishers to better power native advertising efforts. Last month, we announced Taboola Native, a white-labeled version of our discovery platform that empowers publishers to directly sell on-site and off-site native offerings to marketing partners.

To learn more about how Taboola Native can boost your content marketing efforts, contact us today.

Matt King

Matt King is a Content Specialist at Taboola. Previously, Matt worked on the Brand Marketing team at global communications firm FleishmanHillard, and his experience includes internships at Walgreens, Diesel, and 5min Media (acquired by AOL). He studied marketing and creative writing at NYU's Stern School of Business.