A panel of experts tried to answer this question at Digipub World recently.
Can native advertising be scaled? More importantly, how? A panel of experts discussed this subject at the recently concluded Digipub World, a convention for web publishers, hosted by afaqs!.
Edited excerpts of their points of view.
Anurag Gupta, chief executive officer, SVG Media (part of Dentsu Aegis Network)
Growth of native as a category has been exponential... it is growing faster than display. Will it continue to grow faster than display over the next three years? Definitely, yes.
Why do advertisers across segments - durables, electronics, e-commerce, pharma - love native? It's because native measures favourably on whichever matrices they use; they're seeing higher engagement, CTRs, time spent, etc. That's why more dollars are getting pumped into it.
For scalable solutions to be deployed at a mass level you need technology-led offerings... and native fits beautifully here.
Puneet Gupt, chief operating officer - news, Times Internet
It depends on what native is - if native is like a content marketing link of the kind we see on Outbrain and Taboola then native can scale very easily; all you have to do is pump more dollars, get more reach, get a better CTR... and it scales for the publisher and the brand. But when it comes to real native, that is, a custom solution which is a pure immersion in a given publisher's ecosystem, then it takes more time to scale.
We also need to agree on the measurement criteria for native - Clicks? Conversions? Time spent? Likes? Shares?
Native is psychological, it's about telling a story. I don't think we can measure it using clicks and conversions.
While native, on digital, is a term we have started using recently, it's been around for years, (for example), advertiser-funded programmes on TV. As long as we call it out, consumers don't have a problem. They want trust from brands.
We need to have broad guidelines that are acceptable for everyone. And a lot of self-regulation is needed as well.
Virginia Sharma, director, marketing solutions - India, LinkedIn
While it (our LinkedIn Audience Network) is one of the ways in which we can scale native advertising, the genesis of (the network) was not revenue pressure; it was actually demand by clients. We made a dramatic pivot and moved all our display ad inventory to programmatic, within six months. We decided to go all in with native and sponsored content. It's grown the business by more than 30 per cent.
The real way to scale is - as you start your native business and start delivering value to your clients, start figuring out what their clients are consuming/where their clients are going.... and follow that buyer journey.
Another way to scale is to go mobile and think about how heavy your current mobile app is.
We sit right between being a specialised and a large player. Unless we take on the ROI conversation as a specialised player, we're not going to be able to break the duopoly (Google, Facebook). If you set up a native ad on Facebook, they'll tell you exactly how many impressions to expect... they will give you that data. I don't think we have the luxury of not having a point of view on ROI. We could set up those standards on our own terms. Startups looking at different ways to measure it, would be a great service to specialised players.
Vineet Bajpai, founder and chairman, Magnon Group
I am one of the believers. It's not about the format, it's about being able to get the format right. There is a great future for native advertising but we need to get four things right - relevance, transparency, targetting and story-telling.
It would be slightly unfair to native advertising in general to (expect it to) so very quickly arrive at (a system of) assessment of immediate ROI. I know ROI is important, but let's not jump the gun. If we try and introduce too many rules right at the beginning we ourselves will be the biggest hurdle to ROI.
I am sure larger sites like Facebook and Twitter have already started generating high quality ROI. We need to give specialised players a little more time.
Prasanna Singh, co-founder, TheMobileIndian and growth consultant, WittyFeed
One of the biggest challenges publishers face is understanding that they cannot compromise on quality just because it is not editorial. There's been a natural huge push-back against it (native) from traditional, legacy media firms because of the quality. That's a bit of a pity. To me, native has to be as good as, and sometimes better than, editorial.
There are problems on both ends. On the publishers' side, you don't want to be measured straight away, be it (on parameters like) time spent, views or engagement. On the brand side, it's a bigger challenge because when you're up for native advertising, you've replaced editorial guidelines with brand guidelines. Publishers know what works. Brands need to give some leeway for native advertising. You can't bring in your legacy rules and guard everything around your brand like a tough guard dog.