In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a huge ruckus around mobile ad blocking recently, and it’s been interesting to watch the finger pointing. Consumers don’t understand how content stays free. Publishers need to wise up and stop loading so many tags. Advertisers are to blame for stale ideas. The problem lies with desktops, not with mobile — and so on. The ad blocking storm may well be a key driver in catalysing the migration of publishers from their mobile websites to their own contained apps, which are typically out of bounds to the iOS9, Safari-based ad-blocking extensions.
Native advertising as a strategy
Our mobile-first perspective tells us that the solution to dated advertising units had been in the works for quite some time now in the form of native advertising.The format is uniquely tailored to mobile, and is one that, even if not entirely invulnerable to ad blocking, is one that can certainly sidestep it. ‘Native Advertising’ is commonly defined as being any ad that matches the interface of the host site. Done properly, it blends flawlessly into the user experience of the app or website, resulting in an ad that is nearly indistinguishable from the host site’s regular content, without deceivingly portraying itself as editorial content.
According to research by Forrester, display ads are no longer as effective as they once were, as mobile-first users in Asia Pacific are choosing to avoid them completely. In fact, 49 per cent of online adults in APAC avoid ads on websites, and only 10 per cent watch or listen to them. The report highlights native advertising as a more effective tool for advertisers to reach out to their customers and engage better. As such, native advertising also provides brands with additional possibilities to better engage with their customers and understand their preferences.
Ad exchanges are also leveraging this opportunity and enhancing their existing platforms to include simplified native mobile advertising builders that give power to publishers to build their own native ad campaigns, in any variety of formats and sizes that they know will look best in their apps or websites, and thereby connect with their audiences best.
Going native is one of the best techniques for mobile publishers to jump start incoming revenue, and as a bonus, the eCPMs yielded by it are far higher than those brought in from traditional banners and interstitials. Even better, their click-through rates are twice to five times higher than those from banners or display ads. Mobile native ads even generate nearly double the click-through rates of their desktop cousins.
Many mobile publishers have either set about redesigning their apps to bring in native formats, or are strategising and planning on defining the best way to make it work. Naturally, media budgets will respond accordingly. Th standard 320×50 banner ads and the larger interstitials may ultimately be abandoned for the ad blocker-circumventing and more visually appealing native ads. New versions of thousands of apps will be uploaded for approval into app stores in upcoming months, and due to the integration of native advertising units, we’ll very quickly see generations of app UIs with looks and behaviours that are vastly different in 2016 than those of today.From a consumer’s perspective, that’s a very good thing.
In-feed ads, perhaps the most popular and well-known of native ad units, work marvellously on mobile devices. Thanks to widespread usage, they’re now a nearly standardised template that’s been recognisable for some time to users on mobile platforms thanks to Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and others. Quoting Lauren Fisher from eMarketer in the ‘Programmatic Native Advertising’ report, “They’re an ideal choice to stay engaged with an audience that is increasingly moving to these smaller screens”. At the moment, a majority of native spend has been via these social media sites, but this, too, will evolve as we start seeing more innovative and newer native units cropping up in games, music apps, and even utilities.
As we move forward, the idea of mobile native ads taking on the form of subtle product placement which we’re already subconsciously accustomed to from television won’t be too outrageous. Is this a good thing? It’s certainly not a bad one for those who consume free mobile content funded by advertising dollars.
While Fisher believes that “The industry (in 2015) is still in the first innings of retrofitting native ads into programmatic pipes”, the eventual conclusion to this will ultimately be native ads that are strategically targeted to a consumer’s unique demographic, psychographic, and technological profile — and which are so well-crafted and relevant that they won’t feel like ads in any way.
Having recognised the potential of native advertising, mobile advertising platforms have responded to the rising tide by allowing mobile publishers and app developers to easily set up and create their own native ad units, which only positively contributes to the much-needed transition to a better — and less contentious — mobile advertising ecosystem for all.