Native Advertising and the Attention Economy

In this era of consumer choice, advertisers are realizing they must create paid media content that people will pay attention to and interact with more often. That is why the industry has begun to explore ad formats that go beyond traditional display and video, as well as better performance measurements instead of just impressions and clicks.

Although there has been plenty of early talk about native advertising, most advertisers have barely started dipping their toes into the space, while others remain confused about how to approach native advertising properly and how to make it work for their brands.

The Science of Attention

In response to this confusion, native ad platforms — including Sharethrough, TripleLift, and Instinctive have worked with trusted names like Nielsen to release research around the effectiveness of native ads.

Sharethrough worked with Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience lab to study how consumers reacted to native ads in comparison to traditional display banners. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Banners are seen but not read, while native ads are seen AND read.
  • Banners only engage one side of the brain, while native ads engage both sides of the brain.
  • The brain can process 26 images in the blink of an eye, or in the time it takes to read two words. Consequently, a headline is worth 300 images.
  • People make snap judgments on whether or not they want to read something based on context words that draw users in through associations related to insight, time, space, or motion.

The Attention Economy

Additionally, attention is emerging as a currency for advertising. The adoption of viewability standards around media buying is one of the first indicators of this shift. Companies such as Financial Times (FT) and Medium are ushering in the next phase of this transformation with time-based billing models. FT started selling on a cost-per-hour basis earlier this year, and Medium has been transacting on its TTR (total time read) metric, according to the company’s Head of Partnerships, Joe Purzycki.

What About Ad Blockers?

Ad blockers are becoming one of the hottest topics in the marketing, advertising, and ad tech world. There is hope that ad blocking technology will lead to the creation of higher-quality content that consumers will enjoy. But why are users installing ad blockers in the first place? A simple truth is that consumers across all demographics have become digitally sophisticated. Most refuse to engage with spammy, mistargeted or misleading ad content (or block it altogether). Bad website design or way too many ads on a page will often drive the consumer away from reading a piece of content. In fact, the average reader will stop reading an article in the first 15 seconds due in large part to these factors. Medium believes that native may very well be the long-term answer to ad blocking. Even the creator of Crystal, currently the most popular iOS ad blocker in the world, is a fan of native advertising.

Content Is King, but Challenges Remain

In order to capture consumer attention, advertisers can no longer just create ads. They must create content. A big issue, however, involves the cost and scaling challenges presented by content development and syndication, regardless of the form (article, video, etc.) that content takes.

Native video, in particular, can present challenges around tonality. Often, the video assets available are re-purposed from a brand’s existing content efforts. So advertisers end up placing white paper videos in casual video consumption environments, which end up feeling out of place. There has been pressure for brands to begin adapting and adjusting their content creation process to new native video formats.

Another challenge is measurement. While native has proven to be one of the most effective forms of digital advertising, many brand measurement processes are not comprehensive. We remain in the early days of measurement for native.

What’s Next for Brands and Native?

Taken together, it seems that brands are headed in a direction where native advertising and content begin to displace older forms of digital advertising — in particular, display advertising, which has been with us since the advent of the consumer web. Traditional video advertising will likely remain a major player in the digital space, but will be augmented by native video. Brands that want to be ahead of this curve should begin to explore and evaluate some forms of native and test whether the format is right for their needs.