Native Advertising Summit summary


I was happy to attend the Native Advertising Summit in Atlanta on Thursday. There was a good mix of agencies and brands, great panelists; a half-day session all about our beloved native ads.

Here are some highlights:

Patrick Albano from Yahoo! introduced us to their new native ad product, Yahoo! Stream Ads. Although they always did content sponsorship, he explains that they did not have the distribution in place to monetize it as a product. Their native ads are targeted by looking at a user's history within Yahoo! properties, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and how the user rates articles (ie. more of this, less of this). He discussed the importance of photos in native ads, and referenced how their Yahoo! weather app is native in the way that it tells a story based on the pictures it pulls from Flickr (another Yahoo! property).

Patrick's session was broken up into three main sections: Relevance | Form | Flow, exploring how native advertising needs to fit it and stand out.

Relevance was all about timely information. Two great examples he showed was who provides real-world suggestions based on your real-life experiences - forgot to pay your Visa bill? Mint will remind you it's overdue and give you an offer for a 0% interest credit card from Capital One. Next he talked about how Yahoo! Stream Ads uses a fluid map to constantly show you what you're interested in at that time. To paraphrase, you might care about what's going on with Paula Deen this week, but probably not next week.

Form was all about getting the format right to fit into its surroundings. He used his own example of how Yahoo! weather app ads are relevant to the weather - Starbucks will suggest a warm Pike on a cold day, and a refreshing cold coffee on those hot days. (On a side note this isn't particularly new as seasonal-based ads are very common particularly around rich media.) More great examples is Lowes who uses 6-second Vine videos to show you tips on home improvement:

And Lululemon who was quick to jump on the Instagram video bandwagon to spread their Every mat has a story message. He went on to explain how photo- and video-based native ads will only get bigger and the imporatance of brands to use them properly. Who knew Denny's had a Tumblr blog?!

Flow was all about the experience, using a guitar as an example: pictures create the emotional hook, content provides the information, search provides the research and leads you to the ad, which then brings you to the purchase. The trend here is not new: native advertising should sit alongside all your other marketing plans. We all said the same about mobile in its earlier days: mobile should be part of your mix. This section brought about one of the best quotes of the afternoon:

Mark Howard from Forbes was a familiar face on the panel, talking about how BrandVoice has changed over the years. It started as a service that was pushed out to brands, but now as native advertising has matured brands are pulling to them for inclusion. He also shared (of course) that BrandVoice works best when combined with display, reinforcing how native ads should be part of the mix.

Can native advertising be a true source of revenue? Andrew Wiedlen of Buzzfeed and Teal Newland of StumbleUpon will the among the first to tell you: yes! After all, their properties generate 100% of their ad revenue from native ads.


Interesting tidbit from a quick survey: Agencies said that brands were spending 10% of their ad budgets on native ads last year.

This year: 20-30%.

But they warned: brands still have to build the relationship, they can't just expect to create the relationship through an ad.

Having been in the ad business a long time myself, I know one of the biggest challenges around metrics and ROI measurement is the notion that CTR (click-thru rate) is the holy-grail of reporting. But this only shows you how many people clicked your ad - it doesn't show how many truly engaged with the ad. Dan Greenberg of Sharethrough pointed out that even Google has started asking "Are you sure you want to visit" when certain mobile banner ads are clicked.

Image from Google.

So although I have my own thoughts on the topic of measurement, I was curious what others thought:

Some rely on Datalogic to measure ROI up to the cash register. Although there was a consensus that more can be done, many said Facebook is really leading the charge for their ad units. Since you can't actually purchase a product on BrandVoice (since they're typically B2B brands), Forbes relies on sharing information about the audience, time spent, how that attributed to amplification, and analytics around social and sharing (including second-degree sharing). Sometimes they drill down, like seeing how an ad was shared on LinkedIn. Most agree that it's a bit of a leap of faith: trusting that engagement with branded content as it would with natural content will help with brand uplift, and that making content that markets itself well will get customers to share and interact with it.

Branded Content: The other side of the coin

Switching gears, it was time to hear from brands and their agencies on how they are becoming content creators. It started with the question: is "branded content"  more or less "actual content". The consensus: yes, it's actual content.

Tricia Nichols of Gap started things off explaining how Gap lost its relevance over the past little while. They turned to native advertising to help combat this. They found "low-fi" content (created by its users using their camera phones) has much high engagement than the professional high-fi tactics. Instead of advertising directly to moms, Gap provided moms with a platform to do it themselves. Another example was their Style Guide. By providing their goods to bloggers, the bloggers were coupling them with non-Gap items, provide cultural relevance for Gap. Their approach is no longer "I'm going to build a video and post it here", but instead it starts with the right partnerships and figuring out the next step from there. To do this, the media teams and creative teams work hand in hand, something that did not happen in the past.

Neil Bedwell of Coca-Cola admit that they missed the boat with the SuperBowl because they were not able to pivot quickly enough (unlike Oreos). They've changed their internal process to "trust" the person delivering the work to cut-out some of the review and approval processes which don't allow a brand to be nimble. The conversations are about context to get it out quickly, to be part of the conversation in real-time. To do this they also brought creative services in-house and started investing in technology to stay in the know. He noted the behaviours of Facebook users is shifting to Instagram; they need to keep up with their users.

Moksha Fitzgibbons of Complex noticed a huge shift in their consumer base such as 50-60% of engagement use to come from search but now comes from Twitter and Facebook. They have invested their cycles in native advertising and gave a great example: every 9 days their internal content team comes up with a new style story. They write about it in social, dress up their store windows so users see what they read, then customers take pictures and share it on Instagram - the user is now part of the story.

Noel Cottrell of Fitzgerald and Company compared sharing to music: a client will ask you to write them a #1 hit song. It isn't that easy. A great campaign he shared was for Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers: to increase their Twitter population, anyone that follows the Manhattan-pizza brand will be followed in real-life. Yes, they will stalk them in real life! This fun campaign increased their followers by 41%. But the viral video was very low. The argument here is to measure the parts of campaigns separately because although one portion might be low, another may be high.

Their agency success comes from having closer control of things. For example, don't just pass along the campaign to the media buyer and say, place this. Instead work with them to say, we need X dollars in media to promote this campaign.

Dan Greenberg of Sharethrough shared his experiences, reminding us that platforms come and go. MySpace was "the" place to be a little less than 4 years go. Today MySpace has been displaced by other platforms. His point was simple: things change quickly. He echoed something we often say here at Polar: zoom in on a mobile-first point of view to help you understand where monetization is going. 

Even as social platforms comes and go, others are still building around news (Buzzfeed, Forbes)  so it's important to diversify. Intimate experiences require equally intimate advertising. He shared one of Google's best native ad commercials which I think goes without saying why this is appropriate:

Fast and Furious: The rapidly changing media company

The focus shifts to custom brand content providers, which has really shifted how media companies organize their editorial and advertising teams. The primary question posed: is there a worry that sponsored content would disgrace good editorial? Does there need to be a separation between church and state? 

Andrew Wiedlen of Buzzfeed provided some great perspectives (and laughs), particularly since all their ad revenue comes from native advertising (both desktop and mobile). To paraphrase him, there will always be shitty advertising, so what's the difference? He feels content and editorial can work together and at Buzzfeed the editorial team takes on the issues, while the content team works with the creative team for native ads. They almost have a virtual wall between editorial and content teams. Buzzfeed chose to focus on native ads because (as I mentioned above) clicking isn't the only reporting scale to measure.

Anyone can bait a banner ad, but would you share it? That's the question they asked. Their litmus test asks if this content were on Facebook, would it be clickable, sharable? Buzzfeed asks the advertisers to shift away from distracting users.

At Gawker, Andrew Gorenstein makes the distinction that their editorial and content teams aren't necessarily separated. Instead they use the two teams together to ensure the tone and professionalism of the editorial gives the sponsored content more credibility. They aim to not let the business side drive what should ultimately be a good customer experience. As such they are not afraid to say no if the content isn't for their audience. (The Atlantic examples, anyone? (note how I pointed to Gawker's article. Clever, no?)). One wants to ensure they're reaching the influencer with the content.

Over at Refinery 29, they provide access to current fashion and beauty trends. Melissa Goidel explains that selling items is part of the journey, so native ads gives them an opportunity to highlight more great stuff to buy.

An interesting perspective from Jay Ku at GOOD: they don't highlight sponsored ads from content. Instead, they foster and build up the trust of their readers. 

Everyone agreed: keep the bar high, and remember that the consumer is along for the ride. 

What do you think - should content and editorial be separated?

Post your comments below or through Twitter.

There was a lot of chat throughout the afternoon about "always on" marketing - being nimble, relevant, timely. When asked what brands can do in-between that, the panel discussed "planned spontaneous" events, like back to school season; you can create content around the events that you know will happen.


Up next was Daryl Evans, VP of Consumer Advertising and Marketing Communications at AT&T. He joked that he was likely the oldest person in the room, but kidding aside that may have given him the most interesting perspective. He has seen an explosion of new platforms that didn't exist 4 years ago, and each give AT&T a new way to talk to their consumers. These platforms allow us marketers to watch how the message is made, learn about consumers, and what makes it relevant. He points to American Idol being a native ad of sorts for AT&T when they used it to test our text messaging.

He referenced the very relevant example of Mad Men introducing television spots to their clients. To think that back then it was unimaginable to use a 30-second spot to highlight the features of your product. We're at the same juncture today with native advertising, except the technology is moving much faster today.

He ends it with the best quote of all:  Whatever you create, it's all gonna travel down our damn pipe. LOL

The balance between paid and earned media.

The panel switches to a rather interesting topic: the evolving relationship between paid, owned, and earned media. Some of the discussion points revolved around being able to use content to reinvent yourself. Old Spice did just that: went from an older audience to a much younger audience with their shared content, something they'd likely have been unable to do with just one medium alone. 

When looking to share content, it's important to have an authentic audience to amplify your message. Look at T.G.I.Fridays - to increase their Facebook likes, they promised a free burger for every like. But when customers had problems with the coupon or the service, it backfired.

For media spend, the panel discussed planning for "always on" vs "planned media" and almost removing the word "campaign" which implies there's a beginning and an end - but always on marketing is about, well, always being on. Plan budgets accordingly because in the past when the campaign stopped, the money went away but so did the audience. Think longevity. 

Pandora is thy name

Jack Krawczyk of Pandora provided a great case study of the work they did with Gatorade. Seeing that their audience was fragmenting, and that brand-produced assets were becoming portable (same content, different creative), Pandora set out to create Branded Radio. People love music, they listen to music when they workout, and they drink energy drinks when they workout. Combine that all together, add in a sponsor like Gatorade, and you have Gatorade Radio. Aimed at 13-17 year olds, there were three stations in total: warmup, workout, and cool down. They worked just as hard on developing metrics to evaluate this type of native products. They look at: retention, session length, latency, and (of course) revenue. The Gatorade-sponsored stations had over 519,000 hours of total listening, which equates to an average of 1 hour of listening per user. No surprise that 96% was driven on mobile (and 80% of all Pandora users are not on desktop). He left us with some math homework:

history + economics - harm = native ad product

Does native scale?

That was the question that the last panel was to discuss, including Jackie Lamping O'Connell from Twitter and JD Doughney fro Facebook. The moderator posed: can native scale, and should it? Is it like a snow flake that is unique to the platform it's built for? The main take-away from here is that the content should be able to spread across platforms, and also be part of the marketing mix. The point came up that eventually the "native" from "native advertising" can be dropped as it most certainly will just be part of the marketing mix. Content should live in multiple places, be it feed advertising, stream advertising, stand-alone content, etc.

Above all brands have to give native a chance: don't dismiss it with questions like what will this do to my ROI or the number of likes on Facebook.

Overall a great session. Thanks to everyone in Atlanta for making me feel at home.

About the author: Tony Vlismas is the Senior Director of Marketing at Polar Mobile.