Book Masterclass

The Best and Worst in Native Advertising 2016

Dec 1, 2016

By Stine Bjerre Herdel
Nordic Concept & Content Lead at Nordea 
Copenhagen, Denmark

It’s only been a couple of weeks since I spent two days at the conference Native Advertising Days in Berlin. And when I left I felt like I had been to a speed dating event – and now I wanted to date all of the ones I just met.

No doubt native advertising is a business area within the media and advertising industry where things move really fast. There is an abundance of interesting opportunities and challenges for both publishers and advertisers and all of the ones who work for them.

Still, brands, agencies and publishers seem to have some of the same highs and lows in common when it comes to native advertising. Here's my recap of what is the best and worst in native advertising right now.

Related: 10 Key Take-Outs for Native Advertising Success

Some of the most informative, inspiring, entertaining and visually amazing pieces of content I have seen for a long time were presented at the Native Advertising Days

Best of Native Advertising '16 ( or the“yeeaah!”-stuff)


Do you still think native advertising is the good old advertorial-like format with obvious product and sales stuff and rather uninspiring texts and visuals? Think again! Some of the most informative, inspiring, entertaining and visually amazing pieces of content I have seen for a long time were presented at the Native Advertising Days. Just take a look at “How Safe Is Your Neighborhood”, Quartz, and a lot of the stuff coming out of T Brand Studio that delivers native content to the New York Times.

It's not like I'm saying that all native advertising is of really high quality. Because it isn't. And it's not like I'm to the fact that money talks and that money might convince some publishers to publish native that does not exactly make them feel proud. And that is such a shame because it shouldn't be like that.

Related: 23 Predictions for Native Advertising 2017 [FREE e-book]

But at least it seems as if there is consensus about “quality works better”. And that quality is what is crucial if we want native advertising as a business model to survive. So hopefully the “strive to make quality”-paradigm will slowly replace the “as long as I get some content out there…”-paradigm.

Pontus Staunstrup from PostNord – who by the way did some pretty cool native at Swedish media platforms – said it very precisely in his presentation, when he said: “If you (as a publisher or a brand) put bad content on the platform, you damage the platform. Now… why would you do that?”

I rest my case.

Staffing up

Speaking of the above: So who is going to make all this amazing content? Well, a whole range of media-creative and media-business minded people seem to be hired by both brands and publishers right now. Publishers are building in-house content studios, brands are staffing up with people with content creation skills, and several slides at the Native Advertising Days were showing impressive crews behind a certain content production process.

I just have to say: If anyone out there is looking for a new job, I suggest you start taking an interest in the business of content marketing, content strategy - and native advertising. Because it seems like there might be a lot more jobs coming up for skilled people who know how to tell a really good story in words, visuals, sound etc. – or know how to develop new cool concepts, formats and ideas.

Feel free to think creatively when working with native advertising. The brands behind might give you the money to do so if you do it well

An abundance of formats (and a lot of money)

Which leads me to the next topic: The rather abundant amount of opportunities to work with content formats - everything from sms to longreads, heat maps, podcasts and virtual reality were presented. Not that there is anything wrong with a good old article. It’s just that you shouldn’t feel limited by that at all. According to “Adyoulike” brands worldwide are going to spend $59 billion on native advertising annually by the year of 2018. That’s a lot of money and is probably not spend on just a small article here and there. So feel free to think creatively when working with native advertising. The brands behind might give you the money to do so if you do it well.


If anyone at Native Days’16 had stood up in the crowd and said “native advertising should look exactly like the media it’s published in so it blends in completely. The readers should think it’s just a regular part of the platform” they had most likely been escorted to the nearest exit. It seems that anyone who works seriously with native today agrees on the following: Yes, native advertising content should be relevant and valuable to the exact audience of the media in which it’s published – just like the editorial content. BUT it has to be labelled very clearly that it’s not editorial content and it should be obvious what brand is behind.

Native advertising is a business model that can help finance the free journalism that we all need and treasure.

To me the focus on honesty is a good thing. Because no doubt, native advertising is a business model that can help finance the free journalism that we all need and treasure. But the business model is completely – in my eyes – dependent on integrity and transparency. And if we manage, we are on to something good for everyone. The readers too: According to BurdaForward, 63% of readers who had read a native ad rated it positive.

Worst of Native Advertising '16 (not quite so “yeeaah”-stuff)

Lack of understanding what native is and how we work with it

Obviously we are not there yet where everyone agrees that native advertising is a good thing. And even when we do, we don’t always agree on how it should be produced and by whom. Hey, sometimes we seem to not even agree about what it is.

We all need to educate each other slowly but steady, I think, as well as respect each other’s expertise when collaborating around native (more about that later). Brands need to understand how a media works and the media needs to understand how the brands work. It’s a long discussion. But in brief: Obviously the brand usually decides on the topic and the value proposition that it wants to communicate using native – because that’s the whole point of spending money on advertising. But the publisher decides how it’s done. As Hannah Meium, the Director of Branded Content at Mashable puts it: “We are experts in the content our readers want to consume. So we make sure the reader has an authentic experience.”

Unfortunately, it seems like that many brands still use money to challenge the expertise of publishers. As in “if you don’t make the content the way I want it I’ll just take my money and leave. And who can deny that it’s hard to say no to money? It’s a pity because it ruins it for both parties.

To quote Pontus Staunstrup from PostNord again: “Great content is not about budget. It’s about courage”.

Or at least it should be.

Related: New Native Report: 4 Keys to Your Native Advertising Success


This word was used several times by several speakers. It refers to something that is the main barriers for both native advertising and effective content strategy in general.

The thing is: Once you embark on the journey of content marketing in all its various shapes and whether it’s on your own platforms or if it’s native advertising, you have to understand that your content will never be as great as it could be if you don’t join forces across all experts and channels in your company or media.

To create the best story means working as a team across different units and it means forgetting the idea of channel "owners"

The days are gone where you or your unit invents and creates a piece of content for “your” social channel or for “your” magazine. You can do it, but it’s a waste of money and good opportunities. Today, if you want to or produce great content and make the most of it, you start with the story and strategy and then you work with it as a team to make sure that the story comes out the way the story works the best on all suitable channels. Meaning working as a team across different units like marketing, branding, production, strategic communication, analytics, development and other units the company might be arranged into. And it means forgetting the idea of channel ”owners”. The story owns the channel. Unfortunately this is not the reality in many companies today.

Like Jason Miller from LinkedIn put it: “The bigger the companies the more silos. In all the new content agencies developing today people sit together. “

Again: It’s a long story actually. But it seems like silos are out there and aren’t going away just like that. Creating really great content and content strategy means working together in new ways and respecting the value of each other’s expertise in a content creation process.

Make sure you own the native advertising campaign when it's over and make sure you use it in your own channels. Really - many companies don't do this.

Wasted content

And speaking of Jason Miller (and silo thinking) I just LOVED his idea of repurposing content like leftover turkey. As a consultant I have worked with several organisations who create amazing content and spend loads of resources on doing so – but forget to make a plan on to how to repurpose the content, for example: When creating a great native advertising concept for an external media – make sure you own it after the campaign is over and make sure you use it on your own channels. Or at least make sure to produce spin off content you can use yourself. Really – many companies don’t do this.

Jason Miller was talking about slicing up and adapting a piece of “big rock content” into a whole range of formats on various channels – he had one example of how he did this at LinkedIn and had a ROI of 18.000 %! With that in mind why would you EVER even consider not adapting and repurposing every single piece of content you ever made. Not doing so is a waste of money.

Work in progress

And so we are back to the beginning: Did we nail it yet – how to work with native advertising and content strategy in general? Nope! There are many discussions to have, new ways of working, silos to be broken down, and mistakes to be made.

We are in the middle of doing so and that can sometimes be both frustrating and confusing. But also really interesting and rewarding when we make things work. So keep trying and keep fighting for great content.

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Photo credit: d26b73/Flickr

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