The Case for Native

Native is eating the advertising world. Over the past five years, we have seen spending on Native more than double, becoming an increasingly important component of brands’ digital display strategy.

native advertising spend growth by emarketer
Source: eMarketer

What’s driving this growth? Over-personalisation, disruptive ads, and poor targeting. Consumers are increasingly using ad blockers in response, as they become more exasperated and distrustful of digital advertising. The message to the ad industry is clear: do better. 

Fortunately, our industry has been working hard to do just that. Native is one of the best ways that we can both rebuild trust with consumers, and gain increased engagement from higher intent audiences at the same time. There are four key reasons why:

  1. Native is less intrusive, as it targets the site that the user is browsing, rather than the user, regardless of which site they are on. 
  2. More than any other kind of paid advertising, you can start providing value to your potential customers early on via the content you promote.
  3. It can build intrigue and propensity to convert with interactive elements, such as videos, quizzes, and surveys. 
  4. Brands can associate themselves with prestigious, premium publishers by serving on their sites. 

Let’s say you’re convinced of the value of Native. How can you capitalize on it?

A Winning Native Strategy

Keep in mind Native’s comparative advantage: its ability to more seamlessly blend into the surrounding webpage or app. Three of the key pillars of programmatic strategy – engaging creatives, strong messaging, and smart audience targeting – remain just as important as they are for standard display ads. But Native’s comparative advantage produces some crucial differences. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Audience and Inventory

Why did I include both audience and inventory under the same section? Because for native, they are absolutely inseparable.

Your target audience remains unchanged. How you target them is the key difference between Native and all other display ads. With regular display ads, targeting your audience according to their attributes and behavior wherever they are online (within brand safety constraints, of course) is the right approach.

With Native, advertisers need to get more creative in reaching their target audience. They must get creative in targeting the site or app the ads appear on for maximum effectiveness.

Keyword targeting, page category targeting, and even a site whitelist are all critical. Aim for product-publisher-audience fit: where your product offering is tailored to a range of highly-relevant, trusted publishers that your audiences frequent. Creatives should also reflect this fit. Anything less, and Native can’t fulfill its potential.

Native is best for targeting audiences who are already familiar with your brand. Due to less inventory and higher CPMs, it’s not as scalable as standard display ads or video ads for prospecting. As a static, unassuming image, it’s also far less engaging. Instead, content is king and dictates how Native will perform.

You should be strategic about who is going to be clicking and engaging with your content. Will it be someone who has never heard of you before or someone who has already expressed interest and wants to find out more?


Regular display ads should be eye-catching and concise to stand out in the crowded digital advertising market.

If your native ads are eye-catching, you’re doing something wrong. They should instead be unassuming and blend in nicely with the organic content on the rest of the site. This is key to drawing in a more engaged, captive audience.

As for your content, this depends on your current content strategy. If you know what your most-read blog articles are, they’re optimized for SEO, and they drive the key actions you care about, then push these through Native. You already know that these are valuable and engaging to your audience and will convert.

If you don’t have much of a content strategy or know how your blog supports your marketing strategy, this should be your focus. Product (the article) should generally come before distribution (Native). Focus on crafting content that provides value to your potential customers. Think about:

  • What are the key problems my potential customers have, and how can I solve them?
  • What are the key questions my potential customers have, and how can I answer them?
  • What are the key differences between my brand and that of my competitors, or the broader market?
  • How can I make this content the best thing the reader will read all day?

Videos, surveys, and quizzes are some of the more innovative elements you can include to shoot engagement through the roof. These are also great ways of testing messaging and improving engagement in general.

Push organic content and channels (SEO, social) to their potential first before spending money on Native. This ensures you are portraying your brand in the best possible light for when you do use Native. 

Congratulations. You’re well on your way to a winning Native strategy.