The New York Times has been at the forefront of adopting the native format as a way of giving consumers even greater value when visiting the site, while at the same time boosting ad revenues. The foresight shown by CEO Mark Thompson is being replicated across the US media scene as advertisers moving their budgets from traditional display ads to native sponsored content.

At the moment, native takes just under 10% of total display budgets but that is predicted to jump to 15% as early next year. And at a time of fairly fixed overall marketing budgets, that means that every dollar going into native is a dollar coming out of banner ads and the more blatant display styles.

This is all good news for native advertising then, and in more ways than just revenue and sponsored volume. The more native grows as a marketing discipline or creative format, whichever way you choose to look at it, our knowledge of how and why it works and how we can improve its performance also grows.

With knowledge comes opinion and debate, just as it has for every other aspect of people’s quest to understand life and the universe. Seldom will any two experts agree on everything, whether they are plumbers, writers or nuclear physicists; and, in the same way, different views are beginning to emerge amongst those who are dedicated converts to the native movement.

Mark Thompson of NYT has begun such a debate by suggesting that while, for him, the future growth of native is not something he questions, the degree to which it should become programmatic, definitely is.

Programmatic, in this context, is the technology by which a consumer’s clicking behaviour automatically determines the content that appears to them. By inserting triggers in the content, such programming tries to turn the consumer response into an algorithm that will automatically match them to relevant content.

Thompson believes that should be the job of creativity, not digital switches. This, perhaps, reawakens the other discussion of whether marketing’s job is to give the customer what they want or to lead the customer to what they have not yet realised they want.

Studying buyer behaviour has given us great insight in how to lead a customer to a relevant offer, but it remains the offer that closes the sale. With digital marketing we can understand how to differentiate our customers by what they click, we can then lead them along the path to our offer. However, to think we can do that without creativity is completely missing the point of how native works.

Automation in marketing is only bad (for the consumer) when it results in invasive, unwanted and irrelevant daily phone calls about PPI mis-selling, for example, or display ads that leap out of nowhere to obscure what you were trying to read. When it is simply another example of gloriously innovative technology that understands the consumer and takes them to good places, quicker, that does seem to be a good thing.

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Author Adam Knoyle

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