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Past, Present and Future Tales of Native Advertising on Mobile

By Ionut Ciobotaru, PubNative

There is no denying it, mobile advertising is on the rise. App Annie and IDC recently predicted that in-app advertising should grow by 3.2x between 2014 and 2018, thereby surpassing all other types of digital advertising, including PC online search advertising. (source)

Advertising remains the most straightforward method of monetizing digital content for most mobile publishers. When done right, it’s the most effective way to make revenue from the best part of a hard-earned user base. In this context, native advertising, on mobile, is far more than a confusing buzzword: it is a framework with which to build a holistic and healthy ad-based monetization strategy. Let’s quickly go over the short history, the present state as well as the bright outlook of native advertising on mobile.

The concept of native advertising has its roots in the online desktop world, which is also why its application on mobile remains confusing. If native ads can be traced back to the emergence of online search ads at the turn of the century, they became most famous as a specific type of format for sponsored content in online news and publications. Today still, online native advertising tends to be perceived as restricted to sponsored content, which unfortunately suffers from a bad reputation as it is often accused of being deceptive, blurring the lines between editorial and paid content. Native is however much broader: the IAB lists 6 formats in its Native Advertising Playbook: In-feed, paid search, recommendation widgets (sponsored content), promoted listings, IAB standard with native element, as well a custom category.

Coming to mobile, native ads quickly became most famous for one format in particular: in-feed ads, and more specifically Facebook app install ads, followed by similar formats on all other major properties. To date, native advertising on mobile and in-feed ads are practically synonymous. Outside of this format, mobile native remains rather blurry and a myriad of companies, either mobile-specific, mobile-first or cross-device are positioning themselves as offering native advertising, on all sides of the ecosystem.



The mobile experience is much more intimate and inherently very different from the online one: advertising can very easily disrupt the user experience. Therefore, native advertising on mobile cannot be restricted to one, or a list of, particular formats. True, in-feed ads in Facebook’s app are a native format, but only because of their context and the specific function they serve in this particular case (users strolling through a feed).

For this reason, at PubNative it is our belief that native advertising should rather be seen as a contextual framework where function precedes form, with one golden rule: the ad should never disrupt the user experience.

This view was confirmed by Steve Payne, head of planning, insight and research at AOL at the Internet Bureau of Advertising’s (IAB) Content Conference:

“In-feed isn’t (necessarily) the same as native. You can’t consider in-feed advertising to be native. Is it relevant to the consumer experience? Is it interruptive to their experience? Does it look and feel like the surrounding content?”

So, what lies ahead for native on mobile?

First of all, the industry needs to define a common language that advertisers, publishers and marketers alike can use when talking about native advertising. Although this barrier has mostly been overcome on desktop, on mobile industry stakeholders such as ourselves at PubNative are working together with lobby groups such as the MMA and the IAB in order to establish clear, common definitions based on our needs and experience.

Second, native advertising needs to scale. How is it possible, on a standardized basis, to trade ads that are by definition unique to their publishing environment? The more customized the ads are, the more difficult it indeed becomes to achieve scale. From a technological perspective, great steps have already been taken through industry-wide initiatives such as the IAB’s OpenRTB 2.3 with its native extension. This will hopefully enable mobile native ads to be traded programmatically. Today, we are already witnessing positive results as an increasing number of DPSs and ad exchanges support native formats.

In a not-so-distant future, it is likely mobile native ads will become the main way to monetize on mobile. Better get ready!

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