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5 Pitfalls with Programmatic Native

Sep 16, 2016

By Bence Bathi
Founder of Totally Native Ltd 
London, UK

As the native industry is developing, more and more advertisers will start diversifying their media mix and will seek to make use of this rather young and buoyant discipline. This will consequently mean (hopefully) an ever growing investment and potentially at some point a shift from display advertising towards native, programmatic native in particular.

In the past couple of years, everyone who has been active in the digital advertising industry has learnt that programmatic native has become a bit of a buzz word at times and the overexcitement around this shiny new toy of agencies and advertisers has often bedazzled marketers themselves that have started to forget about the one person they are all doing this for: the user.
Whilst I am a big advocate for programmatic media in general, I do see a few pitfalls ahead which could give native overall a damaged reputation which may in fact be caused by the “programmatic” phenomenon.

1. Disregarding Context in programmatic native

If you really think about it, the whole point of native advertising and native in general is to provide information, a snippet of content which effortlessly blends into the publisher canvas and is not trying to catch the attention of the user at all cost and stand out from the rest of the content. So for example if a travel client is promoting say the Top 10 Caribbean islands article, it is strongly advised that we distribute this story across sites that fit into the “Travel” IAB taxonomy.

Programmatic practitioners, however, have been brought up and educated in a way that it is NOT the site that matters where the ads appear, it’s where your audience lives and consumes content/media.

My advice: While this can be applied to programmatic native to a certain degree as well, a native campaign should never really have a blanket approach from which you will optimise to best performing campaigns as this theory is fundamentally against the relevancy factor a native campaign should have at its core.

2. The temptation of hard-sell driven native ads

I have a £1,000 bet that there will be advertisers who will fail to really understand how programmatic native will play a role in their strategy and what part of the overall customer journey it should be activated. This will probably stem from the fact that as soon as the “programmatic” adjective is attached to a medium it will be understood as cheaper than a direct buy, more efficient than anything because it’s biddable, and will immediately stuff the channel into a performance bucket, whereas in most cases in my opinion, it is in fact a branding upper funnel solution.

If an advertiser will see CTRs of 0.35% and CPC competitive with that of Paid Search, the temptation is all too big and favourable to try and force a commercially driven salesy native ad down users’ throat.

My advice: All who exercise any programmatic native activity should be a constructive party of a conversation where native is being planned and push back on attempts of falsely trying a native campaign to sell products and services where it shouldn’t.

3. Negligence of creative and end content

Creative is an evergreen pain point for most advertisers, media agencies, and perhaps for quite some time for end users alike. With the rise of programmatic and the technological advances in media buying and distribution of content, creative may have become a bit of an afterthought or just a thing that generally lacks behind of everyone.

Programmatic native is bound to repeat the same mistake. It is far too easy to plan and deliver a native campaign and spend little time thinking about the type and kind of content we have available, the quality of the article or story being promoted, whether it is enriched with anchor tags or internal site links to improve UX (and SEO), or whether it actually has a modest and subtle commercial hook to at least give the user an option to be exposed to the product or service the business is trying to provide and make money on.

Native creatives require far far less effort from creative agencies to produce given that just a simple image and writing a headline and a short description isn’t something a creative agency crawling with copywriters would struggle either. Yet, a programmatic native campaign will run with only a handful of creatives for the same content categories and same audiences for at least a month without ever being bothered with users have seen this story about 5 times by now.

My advice: do bother with the creative and refresh often (every week ideally).

4. Forgetting the user

As we have already touched on this before, media buying has become so advanced that we struggle to map it out in our minds in general or even on paper how many options we have in our creative delivery matrix. For programmatic native campaigns you can target by IAB content categories, you can target by content engagers, you can target users who have either fully viewed a brand video or just partially. You can retarget them off the back of your site, create lookalikes and target similar audiences, the options are quite varied and rich.

Programmatic native media buying offers you a great deal of choices, but advertisers take so little time and consideration to take off their marketing hats and think through what message will make sense at what point of the journey.
For example, a prospecting native campaign promoting the hero content/article should or could be followed up with a retargeting ad featuring similar topics. (We already know they have been to that page, we can even know if they spent more than 15 seconds there to read it, let’s use that data!) A video retargeting campaign should/could also consist of a message that makes it evident that we know what should come next: “Seen Our Video On XYZ? This story will tell you more”

My advice: Campaign and messaging planning could make a difference between a “click and forget” and a successful programmatic native campaign.

5. Native ad fraud

My final worry for programmatic native campaigns is not something the industry can do too much about or at least our options are limited. This worry is: fraud. Going back to the intro of my post, data suggests that native ad spend is going to reach a double digit billion dollar status in the next five years. Fraudsters go where the money is and this is pretty decent money. I can only expect that programmatic native inventory suppliers will do everything in their power to fight against them but when there’s so much money on the table, it is inevitable that some people will try to take a cut in not the most honest kind of way.

My worries for programmatic native may be unfounded or at least some of them, maybe this industry is not going to go through the exact same evolution like display has. Maybe it will be a lot more sophisticated industry talent pool that will plan and execute these campaigns in the future.

What I know, however, is that the programmatic nature of media buying does pose some threat and can cause some errors in native campaigns and I would advise my fellow native fans to perhaps spend a couple of minutes on the above 5 points, draw the conclusions where possible and deliver a top notch programmatic native campaign for their clients.

More on this topic:

Programmatic Native Explained: What You Need To Know To Get Started (And Get Up To Date)

When Will Programmatic Mobile Native Finally Take Off?

What is Programmatic and how does it relate to native advertising?

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Photo credit: Unsplash/Alex Wong

Story by Bence Bathi

Founder of Totally Native Ltd London, UK

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