Native advertising is a rapidly growing category, but with rapid change comes some confusion. At Verizon Media’s recent ‘Native Decoded’ events series, marketers and agency leaders shared their insights on the state of the industry.
Native is the fastest growing area of digital display advertising, taking in 68% of all display dollars in 2019. But as Managing Director of VMLY&R Auckland, James Mok, says it is changing so rapidly no-one is an expert for very long.
In a series of panel events recently convened by Verizon Media ANZ, top agency and marketing practitioners discussed the current and future state of play. Here are four of the top trends which emerged from those conversations.
1. Collaboration is key
To be successful in native requires marketers, creative and media agencies as well as publishers to work together seamlessly and drive the best outcomes.
For Vodafone New Zealand’s Digital Marketing Manager, Richard McRae, that means giving agencies time to work on concepts and creative rather than adding it as a last-minute thought.
Marketing consultant Nick Barnett explains that cross-collaboration across both internal departments and different agencies and clients is an opportunity to bring different skill sets and useful insights together.
“Everyone works in their own silos, but it comes down to the individual to say they want to be in a cross-functional working environment,” he says.
“Why? Because I want to take insights from other departments and test it in one native ad.”
M&C Saatchi’s Group Innovation Director, Ben Cooper, elaborates on this, explaining the concept of an infinite loop of collaboration within teams, the business and clients.
“We can take principles from agile methodology, to improve how we work together and make better experiences for our customers. Stand-ups and check-ins are critical to collaboration,” Cooper says.
Chief Digital Officer at Hearts & Science Sydney, Isabelle Dunn, agrees adding: “It’s not a first anymore but about an ongoing collaboration.
“A new brief is not a new start, collaboration appears before, after and during.”
Mediacom New Zealand’s Associate Head of Digital, Zoe Carson, held a different view, saying it shouldn’t all be happy families.
“I don't think tension is necessarily a bad thing, we all bring different things to the table,” Carson says.
“As a media agency with the data you've got, you're well within your rights to challenge and vice versa too. The best collaboration I've seen is where you do foster that tension in the relationship.”
2. Marry the culture and the code
Great campaigns marry together data, technology and high art. That’s the key to cracking the algorithms and making an impact with consumers. Native works best when it is creating value for audiences, rather than hammering home brand messages regardless of context.
“Millennials are in a bubble,” M&C Saatchi’s Ben Cooper says.
“And how do you burst that bubble? By bringing data and creativity together.”
Verizon Media’s Head of Native, Sebastian Graham, believes we need to make more magic with native formats, saying: “To be magical, you need to use data and target the right sites and really understand the creative formats," he says.
Converging data and creativity allows marketers to shift focus from clickthrough rates and impressions to the value exchange between the audience and the ad. However, creativity is still being overlooked.
“Ads need to be beautifully creative, but there are too many that are mundane,” Graham says.
“The vast majority of what we see is a static image and static copy and static headline and one variant. No creative assets, no testing, no nothing. We've actually called this Getting Creative With Native. We expect and we hope that people do more creative pieces.”
For Managing Director at VMLY&R, Auckland, James Mok, creativity affords the opportunity to serve powerful ads to the right audiences.
“Ultimately the goal of creativity is to connect with audiences, that’s a really important distinction,” Mok explains.
“I want to figure out the best possible way to connect with audiences and this format gives me the potential to play with a medium which hasn’t yet been fully explored.”
M&C Saatchi’s Cooper agrees, adding: “Customer understanding is at the centre of what we do, we then look at the opportunities we have with tech, data and creativity to help with our decision making.”
For Verizon’s Media’s Graham, data is crucial for informing decision making and native strategies.
“We need a heartbeat of our clients and brands, but also know what their competitors are doing as well. We want that intelligence to inform what we do,” he explains.
“We need to find a happy space where algorithms inform a benchmark because everyone is using the same one. Everyone is advertising on Facebook. It is an algorithm driving an ad, and the ad is driving the exact same ad from a competitor.”
3. How much brand should there be?
The amount of brand you put into native ads is a balancing act between being subtle enough to blend in and bold enough to stand out. This begs the question, how much of a brand should be in native advertising?
M&C Saatchi’s Cooper, says native is great for brand messaging, particularly long-form content because it allows a brand to be more emotionally connected to an audience.
“We are bombarded with messages; brand is what will last out. If we don’t lift brand we won’t understand the difference. It's something that needs to be always done. Native gives us the ability to do that,” he says.
On the other hand, Heart’s & Science’s Dunn believes brands need to be sensitive to audience needs. Quality native should have value of its own and connect with audiences without having brand at the forefront.
“It’s not just about the brand and brand message, it’s about adding value in a way that is more non-branded.”
However, Verizon Media’s Graham countered this, citing company research which supports “making the logo as big as you feel comfortable, and then adding 10%”.
The research found that having logos in native allows brands to gain the consideration and recommendation it needs from the audience.
4. Take a long-term view
Marketers need to take a long-term mindset with their work, and native is no exception. Consultant Nick Barnett encourages ad agencies to take a long-term view for two reasons. Firstly, it allows you to form deeper relationships with clients, and secondly, it provides a better understanding of a brand and its audiences through the ability to test and iterate what works.
“If everyone’s ability to succeed in their business was based on one-off interactions, I would say that partnership is not going to be fruitful,” Barnett explains.
“It falls on senior leadership to have the right conversation, to test and measure. If your job is to show the value, keep focusing on it then get in the cross-functional teams, keep running more tests and then your ability to execute is more important than the wins themselves.”
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