Today’s Native Ad Types and Criteria for How to Evaluate
IAB published its groundbreaking IAB Native Advertising Playbook in December 2013. Since that time, IAB has released numerous companion pieces to the Playbook and IAB Tech Lab has developed important native technical specifications such as OpenRTB Dynamic Native Ads. In late-2018, an IAB working group came together to determine what Playbook changes, if any, were warranted based on today’s media and marketing environment. The group agreed that while many parts of the Playbook have stood the test of time, other parts needed to be updated or modified based on native maturity and industry changes over the past several years. These industry changes, which did not happen overnight, collectively have impacted the business of native ad selling and the evolution of native ad formats.
Native Advertising Maturity Key Factors Impacting Change – Then vs. Now
* Source: eMarketer | ** Source: FY 2017, IAB/PwC Internet Advertising Revenue Report
*** Source: eMarketer | # Source: Federal Trade Commission
It’s no wonder, then, that native display spend continues to rise, now representing 63% of total display spend, driven largely by social and mobile native ads.
Changes to the Original Playbook and Why
The original Playbook was lauded for its clarity and simplicity in explaining and breaking down the native landscape. The changes made in Playbook 2.0 simplify both the identification of the core native ad types and the evaluation of those ad types even further, reflecting how native has evolved over the years. The changes are, overall, evolutionary rather than revolutionary in nature, but nonetheless important to make to help native continue to grow and thrive. The most significant changes, as outlined below, are the addition of Branded/Native Content as a core native ad type and even more emphasis on the need for clear and prominent disclosure for all native ad types.
Highlights of the changes and updates noted in the Playbook 2.0 are as follows:
Remains the same. See Native Advertising Defined.
The Core Native Ad Types
The original Playbook featured six core, distinct, native ad types. IAB Native Advertising Playbook 2.0 now features three core native ad types (in green below).
Rationale for the changes are as follows:
IN-AD (IAB STANDARD) WITH NATIVE ELEMENTS
Removed from the core list of native ad formats
In 2013, there were a number of companies who were selling IAB Standard Ads with native elements as native ads. These ads did not render in the design of the surrounding content and were out-of-feed. They also included a component native element such as a real-time weather or social feed which was the justification for being considered native. This ad type had, thus, been included as a native ad type to reflect marketplace conditions at that time. With evolved thinking on what truly qualifies as native, plus the evolution of dynamic ads with the release of the IAB Dynamic Content Ad Standard in 2017, IAB members felt it was time to remove it from the core list.
Note: In-Ad is defined as any placement that takes component creative assets (meaning they are built using components like image/video, headline/caption, CTA and the like) and renders those assets in a banner ad slot whether inside or outside of the feed of content. These types of ads typically do not follow the format of surrounding content exactly and may not be well integrated amongst content, but separated, as is typical of traditional IAB banner ads such as 300×250, 728×90, etc. This said, being an IAB standard ad, e.g., a 300×250, does not automatically disqualify an ad from being native. Consistent with the definition of native, and the evaluation spectrum, what matters is the evaluation of the ad and whether it is styled/designed to match the visual design of the experience they live within, its location and ad behavior relative to the surrounding content.
CUSTOM/CAN’T BE CONTAINED
Removed from the core list of native ad formats
This classification was originally intended for bespoke executions or for formats like Custom Playlists that were too small a group to call out as a separate native ad format. The current thinking is that most of these types of native ads fall under the In-Feed/In-Content native ad classification, and, therefore, do not warrant a distinct classification.
Removed from the core list of native ad formats
While Search ads technically meet the IAB definition of native, and could effectively be rolled up into the broader In-Feed/In-Content native ad type, the reality is that when the industry thinks of Search, it is considered a separate ad category/bucket and not generally thought of as “native.”
Removed as a distinct native ad type
Promoted Listings are actually In-Feed Ads typically found on commerce sites. For simplification, Promoted Listings have been removed as a distinctive native ad type and, instead, can be considered as part of the broader In-Feed native ad type.
Remains as a core native ad type,now renamed as “In-Feed/In-Content Ads”
This is a dominant native ad format, which includes ads on content, commerce and social feeds.
CONTENT RECOMMENDATION WIDGETS
Remains as a core native ad type, now renamed as “Content Recommendation Ads”
Content Recommendation ads remain a dominant native ad format.
Added as a distinct native ad type
Branded/Native Content is paid content from a brand that is published in the same format as full editorial on a publisher’s site, generally in conjunction with the publisher’s content teams themselves. This content requires disclosure to the consumer that it is paid for/an ad. The content itself, therefore, should be considered as a native ad type.
Native Spectrum/Evaluation Criteria
Core criteria to evaluate the spectrum of native ad types now include four criteria from the original six. The first three criteria are Design, Location and Ad Behavior. This is a new language, but essentially retain the same meanings as the original Playbook criteria with changes made for even greater clarity and simplicity. Disclosure remains as the fourth remaining criteria. The two that were omitted are Buying & Selling and Measurement:
- With the growth of native programmatic, the criteria of Buying & Selling is no longer deemed a criteria by which to define if an ad is native or not.
- The original Measurement evaluation criteria was intended to identify if a native ad was for more upper funnel or lower funnel metrics. While both are possible with native, it was also felt that this was not be a meaningful criteria by which to determine if an ad is native or not.
This section was updated to reflect FTC Native Advertising disclosure guidance issued December 2015. IAB remains a staunch advocate that, regardless of context, a reasonable consumer should be able to distinguish the difference between what is a paid native advertising unit and what is publisher editorial content. Disclosure remains a core native evaluation criteria.
IAB Native Advertising Playbook 2.0
Introduction and Background
Native advertising has grown to become among the largest and fastest growing areas of digital advertising. However, because native advertising has several different implementations, with new formats continually emerging, the question, “What is native advertising?” remains. To help answer this question, and to create a common language within native advertising, the IAB Native Advertising Playbook was developed in December 2013. This Playbook identified six core native ad types and the six key questions that every marketer should ask when evaluating the various ad unit types to help marketers understand what they should generally expect from that ad unit type. The Playbook also highlighted the core differences by type that are important for marketers to understand when evaluating the various options being offered and also provided ad disclosure principles.
Five years after the original Native Playbook was published, a working group comprised of 69 IAB members from leading publisher and technology companies was formed to review the original Playbook to see what needed to be updated/changed, and why, based on current market trends as outlined in the Prelude section. The result: IAB Native Advertising Playbook 2.0 presented here.
The group was led by Susan Borst, VP, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, and IAB gratefully acknowledges the contributions of:
Native Advertising Defined
While the types of native ad units have evolved over the years and will continue to do so with new opportunities afforded by new technologies, notably programmatic, dynamic ads and AI/machine learning, the aspiration of native remains the same: to engage with consumers in more “native,” organic, and, importantly, in most cases, in non-promotional ways to be as relevant as possible and strengthen consumer ties to a brand.
The distinction between native ads and standards ads is the ability of native to follow the natural design, location and ad behavior of the environment in which it was placed with content that provides a relevant consumer experience in the context of the page the ad lives on.
Native Ad Types: The Core Three
There are three native formats that are the most commonly deployed to achieve native objectives; In-Feed/In-Content Native Advertising, Content Recommendation Ads and Branded/Native Content. Two of these formats are the paid ads used to promote/distribute the content. The third format is the paid content itself. These are listed here with definitions and illustrations of how a consumer may encounter these native ad types.
As stated previously, native advertising formats are constantly evolving and if not covered under the core three types, any new format should be evaluated based on the IAB Native Advertising Spectrum Framework (see How To Evaluate Native Ads).
In-Feed/In-Content Native Advertising
In-Feed Native Ads
In-Feed Native Ads are placed in article and content feeds and mimic the surrounding site design and aesthetics. As consumers scroll the listing of article summaries, editorial is mixed with native ad units providing an uninterrupted flow.
In-Content Native Ads
In-Content Native Ads are ads placed primarily on article pages, in between paragraphs of content or below the article, and are designed in such a way that they mimic the design and aesthetics of the surrounding editorial content experience.
In-Feed/In-Content Native Ads can appear on home pages, section fronts, within content on article pages, on product pages and social platforms. These native ads fit in to match both the layout (arrangement of elements) and design (font, color scheme) of the surrounding content, and include disclosure language or other visual cues to let the consumer know that these are paid advertisements and not organic publisher or platform content.
In-Feed Native Ads can potentially appear within traditional IAB ad sizes, such as 300×600, 300×250, etc. These would be considered native only if the ad has customization to match the unique look and feel of the publisher. This would include, but not be limited, to customized colors, layout and font treatments so the ad feels like a natural part of the site or app and located within the feed of content on the page.
There are three primary types of feeds where Native Ads typically appear:
- Content feeds typically include articles, images or video branded/native content; e.g., publisher content sites and news aggregators such as CNN and Yahoo
- Product feeds typically include product, services or app-install branded/native content; e.g., retail sites and app listings such as Amazon, Etsy and eBay
- Social feeds typically include social content, articles, videos, stories, images and music branded/native content; e.g., social networking and messaging apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Note: On social feeds, there are no In-Content Ads.
In addition to understanding the publisher supply and ad placements being offered and contemplated by buyers, examining different permutations of In-Feed Ads is important so marketers and agencies know their creative options for In-Feed Native Advertising, particularly as more In-Feed Ads are served programmatically. It is also important for advertisers to understand the context of their ads on a given feed type, as what may work on one feed type or specific site may be inappropriate or less impactful on a different feed type or specific site. This is equally important from the publisher perspective to ensure that the in-feed ad type is a “fit” (e.g., a video ad on a video site) for the site to truly meet the aspiration of native ads.
When a consumer clicks, taps or swipes on an In-Feed/In-Content Native ad, s/he will either remain on the same site as the In-Feed Ad, or be directed to a different, external destination site. The content in the native ad itself can be anything from text editorial, to video, content recommendations and more.
Content Recommendation Ads
Also known as:
- Content Discovery Ads
- Sponsored Content Ads
- Content Recommendation Widgets
Content Recommendation Ads are a type of native ad (article, video, product or web page) that are displayed alongside other editorial content, ads, and/or paid content. Content Recommendation Ads are typically found below or alongside publisher content, such as an article or in a feed. When a consumer clicks on the Content Recommendation Ad, s/he will always be redirected either to an external page/URL or to another of the source publisher’s URLs.
Branded/ Native Content
Also known as:
- Brand Content
- Sponsored Content
- Custom Content
Branded/Native Content is paid content from a brand that is published in the same format as full editorial on a publisher’s site, generally in conjunction with the publisher’s content teams themselves. The content itself is, therefore, part of the native ad buy and should be considered as a native ad type.
Most marketers find they need to augment their existing (owned) content assets with new paid-for options. Paid Branded/Native content is typically developed by a publisher on behalf of a brand or in collaboration with a brand, or is developed by an independent/specialty content marketing agency.
The Branded/Native Content can be promoted by In-Feed or Content Recommendation Ads as defined above. This branded/native content is rendered on a page, hosted, and served by a publisher within the publisher site, like their editorial experiences.
Scheduling, tracking, and reporting for Branded/Native Content ads is typically supported and provided by the supplier.
The Native Advertising Spectrum Framework
How to Evaluate Native Ads: The Four Questions Marketers Should Ask
The Four Questions Marketers Should Ask
Focusing on the two ad types that a consumer sees before they view the Native/Branded content, there can be a wide variety of implementations. For instance, some native ads are more precisely tailored to the publisher than others and some native ads behave more like the surrounding content than others.
There are four core questions a marketer should consider to ensure that a native ad unit will meet the brand’s expectation and objectives with respect to Design, Location, Ad Behavior and Disclosure as detailed below.
What does the ad look like? How does it fit with the overall page design? Does the ad match the visual design of the experience it lives within, and look and feel like natural content?
Where does the ad placement live, physically? Simply put, is the ad placement within the publisher content feed or outside of the content feed?
How well does the ad unit match the behavior of the surrounding content? Is it the same (i.e., linking to an on-site story page), or are new behaviors introduced (i.e., links off-site when all other publisher content on the page remains on site)?
How does the publisher disclose to the consumer that this is an ad and not part of their editorial content? Is the disclosure clear and prominent?
Note: How ads are disclosed is a very important consideration for every native ad type. View the IAB and FTC Advertising Disclosure Guidance.
It will become quickly apparent to marketers, agencies, and publishers that there will be variation between native ad unit types and even within the same native ad type, based on the execution. For this reason, IAB recommends that options be evaluated across these three continuums, with Disclosure also as a key consideration that buyers must understand. This continuum framework is meant to allow buyers and sellers to share a common language to discuss ad products in the context of native, not to provide a definitive scaling mechanism for the industry.
What follows are common executions and how they would fit in this framework for native ads that the consumer sees before they view the content.
In-Feed/In-Content Native Ads
In-Feed Native Ads have perhaps the largest variation in execution which is why the Evaluation Spectrum Framework is so important to ensure native ad delivery meets expectation with advertisers.
Following are two common examples of In-Feed/In-Content Native Ads and how they fit into the IAB Native Evaluation Framework.
An In-Feed Ad that is in a publisher’s normal content feed, is in story form (editorial or video) where the content has been written by, or in partnership with, the publisher’s team to match the surrounding stories and links to a page within the site like any editorial story with clear and prominent disclosure.The instance falls into the framework as follows:
To illustrate, when users click on published editorial content on Forbes.com they are directed to other pages on Forbes.com. Verizon’s In-Feed Native Ad, which is clearly disclosed as an “Advertisement,” takes consumers to a Branded/Native Content Native Ad page on Forbes.com when clicked. This page mirrors Forbes’ user experience, thus, no new behaviors are introduced.
An In-Feed Ad that is in a publisher’s normal content feed; is a promotional ad that links off of the site to content, editorial content, or the brand’s landing page and has clear and prominent disclosure.
This instance fits into the framework as follows:
To illustrate, the In-Feed Native Ad for Travelers on CNET which is clearly disclosed as “Paid Content by Travelers,” directs consumers away from the site to a landing page on Travelers.com when clicked. The look, feel and navigation are all different than where the consumer just arrived from and, therefore, a new behavior is introduced.
Content Recommendation Ads
Content recommendation ads are a form of native advertising where an ad, video, or paid content link is delivered primarily below article, although some content recommendation ads can be presented in-feed as well.
The most common Content Recommendation Ad unit is integrated into the main content feed of the page and does not mimic the appearance of the editorial content feed. It will always link to a page off the site, and should be clearly and prominently disclosed. It fits into this framework as follows:
Examples include Taboola, Outbrain, Revcontent, Yahoo Gemini, MGID
IAB and FTC Native Advertising Disclosure Principles and Guidance
The native advertising landscape continues to evolve, with content creation and distribution partners working with advertisers to create increasingly effective ad experiences. Consumer perceptions of these ad products are changing as well, as viewers become accustomed to and more experienced in interacting with brands in new ways.
For this reason, it impossible to recommend a single, one-size-fits-all disclosure mechanism for different types of branded content/native advertising offerings, as acknowledged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It is possible, however, to demand adherence to the core principle that regardless of context, a reasonable consumer should be able to distinguish between what is a paid native ad vs. what is editorial content. IAB recommends the following disclosure principles:
FTC issued two documents related to Native Advertising Disclosure on December 22, 2015. It is imperative that brands and their agencies be aware of the helpful guidance provided. These documents cover both the paid distribution/native ad (described by FTC as the “door opener”) and the destination paid content page.
Key FTC takeaways for native advertising include*:
- The FTC will consider the following factors when determining whether an ad formatted like an editorial is deceptive:
- the net impression the entire ad conveys to the reasonable consumer in the context of the platform
- any qualifying information in the ad
- Qualifying information, such as the advertiser’s material connection to the content, must be clear, conspicuous, prominent, and unambiguous.
- For multimedia ads, the disclosures should be made in the ad itself and before consumers receive the ad’s message. If the ad has audio, an audio disclosure is recommended. For video, the disclosure needs to remain on screen long enough to be read and understood, and may need to be repeated throughout longer programming.
* Summary from Baker & Hostetler LLP
For information about the disclosure of Influencer Marketing campaigns, including the paid distribution of influencer content posts, please refer to IAB’s Inside Influence (January 2018) which includes a lengthy section on influencer disclosure and links to important FTC guidance on the subject.
There continues to be a great deal of excitement about what “native” has brought to digital advertising. A top benefit of this move is getting advertising into the user’s natural activity feed— where print and TV advertising have always been.
Importantly, native is decidedly and overwhelmingly a form of brand advertising and, as such, will enable marketers to better use digital marketing to meet the full range of their communications needs, from branding to direct marketing. Moving forward, technology such as dynamic ads and AI/ machine learning will complement and add dimension to how buyers and sellers use native ads to provide the most relevant advertising and creative content relative to the feed or site where consumer attention and engagement lives. As shown in this Playbook, there are many nuances to different type of ads that are being sold as native. This is why the IAB’s Evaluation Spectrum Framework is so important. And, while the native conversation often turns to the ad formats themselves, we should not lose sight of the aspiration of native which is to engage with consumers in more organic ways.
As digital advertising formats and technology continues to evolve, our hope is that the IAB Native Advertising Playbook 2.0 will help buyers and sellers align their expectations and understanding of “what is native” and thereby eliminate any confusion in the marketplace with the goal of continued adoption.
Additional IAB Native Advertising Resources
IAB and IAB Tech Lab have issued or published important documents that reflect the changes to the native advertising landscape over the years since the original IAB Native Advertising Playbook was published. In chronological order, notable IAB native advertising initiatives include:
IAB Tech Lab initiated OpenRTB API Specification Version 2.3, which provides support for native ads that includes a detailed explanation of a real-time bidding interface. This was one of the most significant updates to OpenRTB as it allowed for native ads to be targeted, optimized, and transacted on programmatically, reducing workload on publishers and advertisers alike which, in turn, helps address the issue of scalability of native ads. Users of OpenRTB Specification can now look to OpenRTB 3.0 and AdCOM 1.0, see below.
IAB published Deep Dive on In-Feed Ad Units which was a supplement to the original Native Playbook. This document takes a deep-dive view into today’s in-feed advertising, specifically the consumer’s first experience or ad discovery with the paid content distribution ad. This is what one sees before the click. We focused on exploring the most commonly used In-Feed Ad types found on the three dominant feed types: Content Feeds, Social Feeds and Product Feeds.
Inside Influence, IAB’s Influencer Marketing Playbook was published to help marketers and their agencies understand why publishers are increasing adding influencer marketing as a component of their branded content/native advertising packages. The guide outlines benefits and important questions to ask if an influencer component is recommended by a publisher.
IAB’s Branded Content Creation & Distribution Guide was published. This guide was needed because developing and distributing branded content has become more complicated than ever with a wide array of package options and pricing that can vary significantly depending on the content creator, buy types, content types, publisher sites, and more. The objective of the guide was to help brand marketers and their agencies identify the various branded content creation and distribution options available today and, importantly, understand the key factors that should be considered upfront to make sure that all branded content/native advertising buy meets strategic objectives/KPIs.
To demonstrate the explosion of publisher content studio growth, IAB released the IAB Publisher Content Studio Directory which features nearly 70 IAB publisher content studios, searchable by publisher and content type.
IAB launched OpenRTB 3.0 to be used with AdCOM 1.0, the latest version of the transactional specification that aims to increase security and transparency in programmatic advertising. The rollout expanded support for the newly created Advertising Common Object Model (AdCOM) to support native, rather than, having a separate OpenRTB spec for native.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. Its membership is comprised of more than 650 leading media and technology companies that are responsible for selling, delivering, and optimizing digital advertising or marketing campaigns. The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing. In affiliation with the IAB Tech Lab, it develops technical standards and best practices. IAB and the IAB Education Foundation are committed to professional development and elevating the knowledge, skills, expertise, and diversity of the workforce across the industry. Through the work of its public policy office in Washington, D.C., IAB advocates for its members and promotes the value of the interactive advertising industry to legislators and policymakers. There are 43 IABs licensed to operate in nations around the world and one regional IAB, in Europe. Founded in 1996, IAB is headquartered in New York.
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