Mobile native is ungoverned territory, the wild west of mobile. It remains a relatively new form of mobile advertising and thus faces hurdles in general understanding of the formats and applying programmatic methods. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Native Advertising Playbook identifies some different native formats but it has not been able to fully pin down this broad and complicated part of the advertising industry. Adoption rates remain low, but are increasing.
For advertisers and developers alike, this makes the process of advertising and monetizing a little more complicated, making it essential to understand the mechanics behind native ads and what it is that makes them work.
The absence of industry standards has led to a great deal of confusion as to what it is that makes an ad native. A lot of people tend to immediately think of the example of a Facebook, Buzzfeed or Twitter in-feed ad: disguised as an ordinary ‘post’, with only the words ‘sponsored’ or ‘advertisement’ to distinguish them. While these ads are indeed native ads, what makes them native, and successful, is not only their design matching the environment: it’s their non-intrusiveness.
Mobile users have been complaining about the intrusiveness of mobile ads almost since they first started appearing. This is what led the drive towards native ads. Even now, plenty of studies, for example the most recent Nielsen Connected Device Report, find that a majority of consumers surveyed (65% in the case of the Nielsen study) consistently find mobile ads intrusive. The UK IAB found that more than half of users think mobile ads could be improved by making them unobtrusive and 35% think making them more relevant would help.
So, steps need to be taken to make ‘native’ ads truly native: make them non-intrusive for users. While the design is a part of it (flashing, bright colours will always be distracting), much more important considerations are the timing and relevance of the ad. This is what makes them native or not.
To be native, the ad needs to not interrupt the user. Whether it takes the form of an in-feed ad or a classic banner is not instrumental in its success - it’s the user’s perception of the app flow that counts. The user is in the app for a reason, be it for entertainment, to get something done, or to communicate with others. This is already a tricky environment in which to display ads, as the possibility of distracting the user is already pretty high. So one of the most important factors that influences the user’s perception of the ad is when it is triggered.
An understanding of the user’s flow within the app is essential here. When is the best time to trigger an ad? Just as in-feed ads are triggered non-intrusively while the user is scrolling through their feed, other formats need to appear at points in time when the user would be least bothered by an ad appearing. In general, this is either during or after the user’s activity within the app. A travel app, for example, could display an ad while it is searching various databases for the cheapest flights. A simple utility app in which users typically spend little time, such as a currency converter, is better off displaying an ad when the user has received the information they need and on closing the app.
Of course, showing ads at the most optimum moments will not result in a conversion if the ad is not relevant for the user. Making use of advanced targeting techniques and an SSP which has access to a data management platform help to target users and provide them with meaningful ads which increase conversion rates.
While it is up to app developers to streamline their app’s user experience and display ads to them at the right time, advertisers must realize that they also have control over where their ads are placed and to whom. Due to advances in native programmatic, in which ads are automatically served to optimize payouts and reach the right users, advertisers can choose the right types of apps and audiences in which to display their ads, based on performance.
Some SSPs and ad networks are able to track the performance of audiences, independent of what the publisher apps report themselves, and are able to generate a ranking of those apps’ abilities to convert users. The Facebook Audience Network is a leading example here. Their Advertiser Outcome Score (AOS) tells publishers how effective their ad placement is. Publishers who show intrusive ads, which do not have an optimum flow in the app, are ranked lower and are penalized with lower bids from advertisers.
Programmatic mobile native advertising is still in the process of adopting standards. It will continue its path towards full programmatic, as most mobile formats are, but in the meantime the bigger players are providing attractive ways to ensure that native ads on mobile devices do what they are supposed to: offer the user ads which are relevant to them in a non-intrusive way. The key is for advertisers and app developers to understand which options are available to them, and how to optimize their processes to deliver better ads and ad opportunities. If adoption rates continue to increase, we might be able to see mobile native advertising’s breakthrough into the mainstream, this year.
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