OPA Intelligence Reports

Posted in News on 02/25/2013 By Mark Glaser & Courtney Lowery Cowgill

Why native ads need a definition

You can hardly read a piece of industry news these days without some mention of “native advertising” and how it’s going to take over the world.  But before that happens, don’t we need a clear definition of what it is? Right now, “native advertising” can be just about anything. It can be in-stream ads on your Facebook feed, a whole article on The Atlantic, or a video produced for a site that’s both content and advertising. In an Adweek piece this week about AOL leaning into native advertising, CEO Tim Armstrong tells Mike Shields that AOL is abandoning the banner and focusing its efforts on “Marketing Services” including native ads. But what does that mean? Armstrong put it this way: “We’re getting out of straight banner solutions business. That’s getting very commoditized. So we’re making giant gains in marketing services. Big integrated online/offline programs. That’s our future.”

This broad spectrum of what’s “native” could be what kills the momentum. In a post for the Harvard Business Review, Mitch Joel put it this way: “Not to sound alarmist, but if there is not a consistent definition (that includes both the technical format along with the content that is embedded within in), the confusion will cause challenges in the growth of online advertising. The industry will revert back to a time and place when publishers could create complex and chaotic environments for advertisers.” Joel then offers up a few definitions of native advertising – making the case that if defined well, it could open up big opportunities for publishers and advertisers alike. Without some parameters, however, it could actually do harm to the industry, from reputation-injuring goofs like the Scientology ad on The Atlantic to a glut of indefinable inventory. As Joel writes, “First, we need to all speak the same language around ‘native advertising.’ The future of paid advertising depends on it.”