We often think of those in the advertising world as masters of simple yet provocative messages. But if we look closer, cutting through the clutter of the constant disruptions people experience and then delivering a compelling ad takes a lot of work. Successful ad campaigns can take days if not weeks of thought, iteration and late-night panic. But even that is not enough.
Powerful ads stick with us because we see them, talk about them and even tell our friends about them. This is where the advertising machine attempts to maneuver its way through the minefield of publishers and networks, all while consulting maps of spreadsheets and mathematical formulas to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time. And that is anything but simple.
So it is no wonder the two watchwords of the industry today are "native" and "programmatic." Research by eMarketer predicts native ad spending on social sites will reach $5 billion by 2017. This year, programmatic ad buying will account for almost 50% of the U.S. digital display market. Given that, it makes sense for native ads to become part of the scalable, programmatic ecosystem.
Art vs. Science
The problem, however, is that they sit at opposite ends of the advertising spectrum. Native is art; programmatic is science. And things get even more challenging when you look at how each impacts publishers, advertisers and consumers, the people who ultimately determine the success of these campaigns.
Today, publishers enjoy the spoils of native advertising, as it helps solve the ongoing challenges of monetizing site content. Advertisers and brands love their performance and the level of authenticity they create, and with native ads getting 25% more viewership than typical banner ads who can blame them? Consumers benefit as well. Native ads are less disruptive, more relevant and of better quality because they provide users with valuable content without resorting to flashy animations or visual takeovers.
But there are drawbacks, too. Publishers continually balance provocative native ad content and readership. Go too far, become too disruptive, and readership can fall off, which cuts into future monetization opportunities. Advertisers and brands, on the other hand, are limited by time, publisher availability and staff to manage native ads across multiple sites. And consumers are smart. They will eventually tune out some native ads as they become more prevalent and quality varies.
It's Time to Provoke and Simplify
Faced with these realities, many argue that native and programmatic cannot co-exist: too many complexities and competing interests. I disagree. Native and programmatic can co-exist when we develop the willingness and capability to view every impression as an opportunity to listen and engage.
According to the Edelman's 2014 Brandshare Study, 87% of consumers want more meaningful relationships with brands. The same study also showed that almost seven in 10 consumers think brands offer only a one-sided relationship. But well-executed native advertising offers a unique way for brands to directly interact and listen to consumers. These are exactly the types of campaigns that the industry should focus on scaling to programmatic heights.
The consumer wants a brand to inform, entertain or educate them, and then they want to be heard. The brand wants people to talk about it. When you simplify the needs of each party, the common thread is obvious: dialogue.
Imagine if a brand could take the dialogue it gets from a native campaign and multiply at will. It would be like starting or joining thousands of water cooler conversations all at the same time. Not only can brands begin to foster a two-way relationship with consumers, publishers will keep their audiences engaged and advertisers will have an effective and easy-to-use tool that allows both art and science to work together.
In other words, by focusing on the relationship between the brand and the consumer, we simplify the problem--a problem that I'm confident, with a little provocation, the advertising industry can and will solve.
David Fleck is general manager of advertising at Disqus, the Web's most popular discussion system. He works with leading brands and agencies to develop strategic partnerships and new advertising products that help marketers tap into the world of discussions on Disqus. Previously, David held leadership positions at content and technology companies such as Federated Media, BitTorrent and Google. He has worked on behalf of leading global brands like American Express, Intel, P&G and Coca-Cola.
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