Native advertising is a catch-all term that generally refers to the practice of creating advertising that mimics editorial. What most people think of is a kind of advertorial for the digital age.
The Wall Street Journal Content Studio, for instance, wrote an in-depth story about Colombia’s history of drug trafficking to promote Narcos on Netflix. The content was highly impactful because it was not just superficially native. It actually looked and read like WSJ reporting. The promotional hook was subtle—and also effective. This is the archetype for native that works: high touch, highly priced, and high end.
What many people don’t know is that the same type of execution is possible with many kinds of brand content, on many other kinds of sites, and with all levels of budget.
Native has made its inroads into programmatic, just as programmatic has made its inroads into premium inventory. But for native programmatic to really deliver on the promise of native and not spoil the user experience, dynamic content optimization (DCO) is key. The agility and precision to scale up and down and to distribute across a diverse group of publishers depends on the ability to dynamically render that content in a way that feels appropriate for a specific audience.
DCO is about the right combination of headline, messaging themes, preview images, and where applicable, video content. Getting it just right is both an art and a science.
DCO ads consider custom audience profiles and unique contextual factors, including the user’s location, first-party and third-party data segments, the type of device they use, the time, and even the weather. If it’s raining, a user might see an ad for a pair of boots with a message noting both the current weather and the location of a nearby store carrying the boots. And so forth.
So while dollars are moving up the funnel, the upper funnel looks a lot more like the direct response of old, insofar as it is measurable, data-driven, and informed by information at the consumer level. We are still in the early stages of this evolution. ComScore estimates that marketers were still allocating about 80% of their digital advertising spending to direct response, not upper-funnel awareness, which is almost the exact opposite of the ratio for traditional media.
As more spending shifts to branding, though, advertisers will need a scalable yet personalized ad vehicle. In its purest form, it’s difficult to scale native that way. However, DCO gives it that scalability and that broad potential.
Without DCO, native will continue to struggle to scale and inherit its proper place in the media mix. Programmatic native is paradoxically challenging, but by leveraging DCO, native ad personalization at scale becomes a closer reality.