Is native advertising the cure for ad blockers?

The advertising industry has been in turmoil this week following Apple’s announcement that it will soon be possible to block ads in Apple’s Safari Web browser. Of course ad blocking is not new, for several years it has been daunting publishers and advertisers, who saw millions of dollars worth of ads being blocked by popular ad blockers, such as AdBlockPlus. In fact a recent study suggests that every month 144 million people make use of ad blocking software. AdBlockPlus’ website advertises over 300 million users. That’s a substantial number, considering the fact that it is only for desktop usage as a Chrome extension. The addition of mobile advertising is the cause for great concern, as mobile currently takes a significant share in media consumption.

Everyone agrees that this does not come as a surprise to the advertising industry. Following the on-going decline in the performance of display advertisements, the industry has been constantly developing new ways to grab the reader’s attention away from the content. The evolution has created formats that have become progressively more “aggressive”, often completely obstructing the main content on the page (e.g. interstitial ads).

AdBlockPlus’ “acceptable ad formats”

Recently AdblockPlus has added the option not to block”, what it calls, “acceptable ads”. According to the website, in a survey that they conducted among their users, 75% of users said that are willing to view view ads, as long as the ads are not disruptive. The survey also expresses the general reluctance to pay for content in exchange for an ads-free experience. Some reports say that Eyeo, the company behind Adblock Plus, has been taking money from major publishers such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to get their “acceptable” ads white-listed.

Regardless of whether there is money involved or not, AdblockPlus have published a list of requirements for acceptable ads. Within this list, there are some requirements that warrant discussion:

  • Static ads – no animations, sounds or similar.
  • Text only – this requirement is optional, but it is preferred by the company. The requirement states that the ads should not include any attention-grabbing images. This of course defeats the purpose of display advertising, as it generally tries to grab the reader’s attention away from the content.
  • Ad placement – there are many requirements for the placement of the ads, but generally speaking, they should not obstruct the main content of the page, they should be clearly marked as advertisements, and they should not require the user to scroll in order to see the main content of the page.

Do native ads meet these requirements?

Let’s examine if the basic characteristic of native advertising meet the “acceptable ad formats” requirements. In general, native advertising’s purpose is not to grab the attention of the user away from the main content of the page, but rather to blend-in in a non-disruptive manner. This in itself addresses the key concern that has led users to use ad blockers. If we consider the response to the survey mentioned above, most users prefer to have non-intrusive ads instead of paying for content. And since this is the main purpose of native advertising, it seems that it’s a perfect fit.

  • Static ads – this requirement will not be a problem for native ads. Although some native ads include video previews, most native ad units are static and designed to blend in with the main content of the page.
  • Text only – most native ads that are commonly used today are not text-only, this is of course expected since the main content of the page is usually not text-only either. The fact that native ads should not grab more attention than the main content, doesn’t mean they should grab less of the user’s attention. Textual ads alongside Google’s textual search results is fine, but if the main content includes eye-grabbing images and headlines, so should the native ad. In any case, since this requirement is optional, we can safely assume it won’t be a problem for native ads.
  • Ad placement – these requirements are usually met by all native ad units. IAB’s native advertising playbook  includes specific examples for the marking of native ads in order to ensure transparency. The ads do not obstruct the main content in any way, but rather complement it with additional relevant content. In addition, the user does not have to scroll in order to see the main content.

As we’ve seen native advertising meets the “acceptable ad formats” requirements that AdblockPlus have published. Does this mean that native ads are immune from blocking? Well, as long as blockers remain faithful to their user’s interests and reasoning, they should. If a blocker has other motives such as charging companies to be included in the white list, then they will certainly find ways to identify native ads and block them.

Again, we have to remember that most users don’t want to pay for content. And if they realize that content costs money to produce, they will certainly rather get ads, as long as it does not disrupt the content consumption experience. Native ads do just that, they are not disruptive, they often add value to the users (in the same way content does), they are relevant to the user and to the context, and most importantly, they help pay the bills that will support free content.

IAB native advertising playbook summary poster

Last year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and its Native Advertising Task Force has released the “IAB Native Advertising Playbook” to establish a common industry language, evaluation framework and disclosure principles for native advertising. In order to simplify the understanding of the various native ad units and their characteristics, my6sense, a white-label programmatic native advertising platform provider for ad networks, demand/supply providers, and exchanges, have created a poster that summarizes the IAB’s native advertising playbook.

The infographic poster focuses on four main native ad unit types out of the six types included in the playbook:

  • In-feed ads – a single native ad presented in the publisher’s content well, which is linked to a page within the site, like any editorial story, or off of the site to content, editorial content, or brand’s landing page.
  • Recommendation widgets – multiple native ads presented inside a widget within the publisher’s content well. Offers a mix between internal recommendations, content exchange, and promotional content.
  • Promoted listings – these ads are found on sites that typically do not have a traditional editorial content well. Promoted listings are designed to look identical to the products or services offered on a given site.
  • In-Ad (IAB Standard) with native element units – A single native ad, placed inside a standard IAB container. The conformance to the display ads standard ensures compatibility with current programmatic systems.

The Native Advertising Playbook poster is available for download, contact for your copy.


The secret ingredient behind effective native advertising

I have recently stumbled upon a video explaining about the ingredients in McDonald’s fries. Turns out that everyone’s favorite fast food includes 19 different ingredients. Putting aside the criticism and health-related concerns that spawned after the release of this video, it is clear that in order to create a consistent product with the same texture and taste all year long, McDonalds needed to include many additional ingredients on top of the simple potato. I think most customers understood that these fries have more than what meets the eye.

Okay, so you are thinking, what do french fries have to do with native advertising? Well, by looking at a publisher’s page with native ads and content recommendations you may not think much of these native ads just like you would not think much of the fries. However, the decision to deliver these native ads and recommendations is not coincidental. In a world where performance, engagement, and user experience are of upmost importance, the technology behind this decision can be the difference between success and failure. In this post, I will take a behind the scenes look at the various native advertising recommendation and matching technologies, as these are the secret ingredients behind effective native advertising.

Basic Campaign Parameters

Traditional advertising systems allow the advertiser (demand-side) to define various targeting rules for each campaign. These rules can be basic, such as publisher sites, audience and GEO, to more elaborate rules such as timing, location, demographic, and more. This type of targeting is, of course, very basic, as it makes broad assumptions regarding the relevancy of ads. On the other hand, they allow some degree of control as to where the ad will appear.

Contextual Matching

Contextual matching technologies analyze the content of the designated article or web page (on the publisher’s website) in order to match relevant ads. For example, a page that discusses a health-related topic may be relevant to health-related ads. Most native advertising platforms and networks use contextual matching as the means to deliver relevant native ads to users.

Of course, some technologies and algorithms may vary in their sophistication levels. Advanced technologies may make an inferred connection between the content of the page and the topic of the ad. For example, they may find a connection between the mentioned health-related page to a broader topic such as fitness. Broadening the scope of related topics is essential for the user experience (to avoid monolithic recommendations) and the utilization of the ads inventory.

Although this form of matching is effective to some extent, it is still restricted to the content of the page, which may not represent the entire spectrum of tastes and interests of the user.

User Behavioral Matching

This technology focuses on the user itself. It analyzes the users‘ behavior, from the feedback that users implicitly provide during content consumption throughout time to create a high-dimensional preference model for each individual user. The model is then used for real-time content and ad selection. This type of targeting is more effective, as it captures the user’s tastes and preferences, their moods in various times during the day, and the specific content consumption habits. The targeting is not only effective, it can utilize more campaigns and match them to the existing content. For example, a female user visiting a sports site may receive an ad about baby formula. Using only contextual matching, this ad will never appear on the sports site. However, through the use of user behavioral matching technology this is certainly possible.

Collaborative filtering and trend analysis

Collaborative filtering is a targeting method that is based on the collective preferences or taste information from many users. The underlying assumption of the collaborative filtering approach is that if a person A has the same opinion as a person B on an issue, A is more likely to have B’s opinion on a different issue x than to have the opinion on x of a person chosen randomly. This type of technology is commonly used in e-commerce sites, by displaying related items that interested other users. This method is of course also relevant for the matching of native advertising. In this case, items are replaced by content recommendations and native ads.
Collaborative data is also used to perform engagement trend analysis. For example, the technology understands which articles are “hot” or trending at a particular publisher’s site and then to factor-in this data in the targeting optimization.

External data signals

Advanced matching technologies also factor-in external signals from the publisher’s DMP, social networks, SSPs, etc. These signals can include demographic data, gender, commerce profiles, and more. These signals enrich the set of parameters used in the matching optimization. For example, data from the publisher’s DMP can distinguish between paying subscribers and non-paying users. By using this information, the technology can target specific native ads/content to the paying subscribers versus the non-paying ones, based on its optimization algorithms.

Mixing all the ingredients at once

As we can see, all the technologies (ingredients) mentioned above can contribute to the native ads matching optimization. However combining them all at once is extremely challenging. It’s like having multiple opinions to make a single decision, which ad to serve. my6sense’s native advertising platform uniquely combines all these ingredients in real-time. Every time an ad/content recommendation is served, a sophisticated algorithm uses all these ingredients to help make this decision, while applying different “weights” in order to maximize the monetization for publishers, performance for advertisers, and the best user experience for readers.

To learn more about my6sense’s technology – click here

5 Predictions for Native Advertising in 2015

  1. Wide spread adoption – It is already clear that native advertising has grown tremendously in the last couple of years and is likely to continue growing throughout 2015. As traditional display ads struggles with CTRs, more advertisers are moving their budgets to native advertising, where they can reach out to their audiences and connect with them in a much deeper manner.
  2. Integral part of the advertising eco-system – Despite its tremendous growth, its clear that native advertising has not reached critical mass yet. The main reason is that native advertising players, such as Outbrain and Taboola, are currently offering their own closed networks. Although these networks offer value to advertisers and publishers, the advertising market comprises a huge eco-system of network players, such as ad-networks and ad-exchanges, which cannot participate in such closed networks. In 2015 we will see this advertising eco-system making substantial moves into the native ads space. The IAB is already hosting important discussions with industry players to figure out how to create industry standards that will allow native advertising to become an integral part of this thriving eco-system.
  3. More types of ad-units – traditionally native advertising was offered in the form of content recommendations, which appeared in a content recommendations widget at the bottom of a news article. The IAB has since published its native advertising playbook, listing 6 standard types of native ad units, including a variety of In-feed ads, In-ad with native elements, recommendation widgets, paid search units, and more. In 2015 we will see how these multiple formats play a larger role in the native advertising field.
  4. Programmatic open platforms – this is probably the most important trend for native advertising. In a recent article on, Joe Pych argued that “…until creative production and media buying systems adapt to native advertising, it will be difficult to justify large media investments because of the high transactional costs involved in securing the inventory.” In other words, native advertising has to become open and standardized, allowing “hands-free” purchasing and placement of ads across different networks. This means that technology vendors in this market should not only offer a native advertising network, but rather a native advertising platform that is open and allows various market players to build their own networks which eventually will be interoperable between each other. Historically this is exactly what took place in the traditional display ad space and this year I think will start to find its way into the native advertising market.
  5. Mobile – today it is clear that mobile devices are taking center stage in world wide media consumption. In some countries mobile content consumption has even surpassed the 50% mark. Yet in terms of advertising, mobile poses unique challenges that have to be addressed in a different way. The small screen sizes in mobile devices mean that there is less available “real-estate” for advertising, and consequently less revenue opportunities for publishers. Advertisers are also challenged by these screen sizes as there is a natural trade-off between effectiveness and intrusiveness. Native advertising offers an optimal balance between effectiveness and intrusiveness. However, it is clear that merely using native ads formats that were designed for desktops/web on mobile devices will not maximize its potential. In 2015 we will see more of these mobile-specific native ads as well as brand awareness advertising that leverages the native ads user experience.

5 Reasons Why Ad Networks Should Build Their Own Native Ads Network

# 1 – Native advertising is on a rise (and this is just the beginning)

Native advertising has become one of the fastest growing market segments in the advertising and content space. According to eMarketer, increased mobile use of these venues has fueled much of the growth, since native ads work best in the content streams that people tend to access on smartphones and tablets. In the US alone native ad spending is forecasted to reach $5 billion by 2017.

# 2 – Native advertising growth comes on the account of traditional display advertising

Although overall digital spending will most likely rise in the coming years, it is safe to say that the exceptional growth of native advertising will come on the account of traditional display advertising. In other words, larger portions of the display advertising budgets will be diverted to native advertising, creating a threat to players in the traditional ads market, and an opportunity to those who can embrace this change.

#3 – Fits well in the ad networks’ portfolio

Over the years ad networks have evolved to offer a wide variety of advertising formats. From the traditional banner ads, they have expanded their portfolios to include dozens of different ad types, such as floating ads, interstitial ads, and more. Today some networks have even expanded their portfolio to include video pre-roll ads. Native advertising can be regarded as yet another expansion of the existing portfolio, and sold as just another format or channel in an overall comprehensive ad campaign.

# 4 – Leveraging existing relationships

For ad networks adding native advertising does not mean changing their business. Essentially ad networks are a technological intermediary between advertisers and publishers. They are the link that connect a multitude of advertisers with a multitude of publishers to deliver the optimal results for both parties. Becoming a native adverting network or adding native advertising to their existing networks conforms with their existing position in the supply chain, forming a value added technological platform that connects a multitude of advertisers with a multitude of publishers. Unlike new network players that must build up the supply and the demand sides in order to provide value to both parties, ad networks can simply leverage their existing relationships to form a viable native advertising network.

# 5 – Time-to-market

If you were convinced by all of the above, you are probably saying “ok, but building a native advertising network takes a lot of time and requires a huge investment. By the time ad networks will actually provide this offering, it may be too little too late.” Well, you may be right, but luckily there is a solution. my6sense offers a fully-featured ready-to-deploy white label native advertising platform. This means that ad networks can almost immediately build their own native advertising network and expand their offerings to include native advertising. The programmatic native advertising platform supports both web and mobile and is based on a unique patented recommendation technology that combines content analysis with users’ preferences. So instead of just matching marketing content to the publisher’s content, my6sense focuses on each individual user, delivering the most relevant content and ads at any given moment.

To get a demo of my6sense white label platform – click here

Read more