AD Tech Q&A: Technology and best practices to further enable Native Advertising

With Native Advertising now firmly established as a key display product within the Australian digital media marketing mix, the Standards and Guidelines Council recently published an update to the Native Handbook, originally published in 2017.

Within this 2020 update are some simplified product definitions (reduced from 5 down to 3), an introduction to programmatic native and also some recommendations and best practices from local Native advertising product experts.

Additionally there are some links to a mix of local product examples to act as an Australian showcase. We have also recently followed-up with a dedicated webinar to remind the industry of these core updates and provide some more visual product examples in a more intimate manner.

Following on from the success of, and interest in, the webinar - we have approached a few of our council members and local industry experts with some related questions on Native Advertising. We hope that you find this useful…


Isabelle Dunn, Chief Digital Officer, Hearts & Science

Do you see Native as being better used as a tool to drive quick sales, or as a longer term brand builder?

Native’s unique strength is its ability to drive brand consideration and purchase intent at scale, which are metrics notoriously super hard to shift. As a non-intrusive format, It’s designed to match the look and feel of the editorial and match the functionality. It’s supposed to serve readers interesting/personalised content recommendations.

However, in line with advertisers changing priorities, its focus has drastically shifted to DR more recently – which isn’t ideal. While it can deliver really cost efficient results in the short term, It’s too often executed poorly, misleading users with clickbait headlines. With users becoming savvier, trust can be at risk, which won’t be sustainable in the long term.

Regardless if native content is used for performance activity or brand building, it should always be executed with excellence. It should always start with a sound and robust content strategy, and focus on delivering a seamless and positive user experience.

How can we best use all the data and technology we have at our disposal to ensure that readers willingly engage with branded content?

It comes down to nailing that core consumer need or interest. Core insights can surface either as part of the comms strategy / creative big idea for a brand campaign, or developed separately as a way to boost organic brand visibility as part of the always on baseline. 

The challenge, however, is that native is often planned and bought as an ad format, with content being created as an afterthought post campaign approval - which is a huge missed opportunity.  The Native Advertising eco-system is complex – with advertisers, media agencies, creative agencies, vendors, publishers and consumers. Vendors typically don’t control the user experience and the content quality or relevance – which can lead to a lack of ownership and strategic alignment. 

I personally believe it’s the agencies role to take the lead and orchestrate a collective effort to ensure strategic alignment, which will improve consumer user experience and ensure sustainability and growth of the category.


Chantelle Schmidt, Group Native Content Manager, Pedestrian Group

In terms of best practice, how critical is the utilisation of consistently high-quality editorial to the success of your Native campaigns?

How engaging a native editorial is can make or break a campaign - if the reader isn't getting any added value from the piece, there will be little benefit to the brand and their objectives. It's really important that those involved in the production of a native editorial, from ideation right through to execution, work together to make sure the article is the best it can possibly be.

From a spicy headline right through to seamless brand integration and the perfect social copy, every trait of a native campaign is just as crucial as the other. Sure, there might be tough conversations along the way to produce only the best for our clients and audience alike, but when you're able to work together and meet halfway to produce quality content that sparks conversation, the results speak for themselves.

The creativity of some of your campaigns is off the charts. How do Pedestrian Group efficiently manage the internal processes in order to optimise the creative output?

Creativity is at the core of everything we do, and we not only invite but encourage everyone in the office to get their hands dirty in the brainstorm process when responding to a brief. This collaborative approach continues throughout all steps of a campaign, allowing us to bounce off one another to develop the best product, like workshopping headlines with the wider editorial team to land on the most engaging, relatable and witty headline.

We have a thorough internal process when it comes to developing a campaign from scratch but it's absolutely a necessary one, and the epic ideas that surface along the way are testament to that.


Sebastian Graham, Head of Native, Verizon Media

Native continues to be a hero product here in Australia, where are Verizon Media seeing the biggest impacts in terms of overall performance?

At Verizon Media we’re seeing a fascinating dichotomy in market right now. There are some strongly embedded wrong perceptions that Native is simply a traffic driver. Worse many brands have had a negative experience with that form of Native with an endless scroll of progressively lower and lower quality ads.

Fortunately many advertisers, agencies and publishers are realising that the reality of Native over the last few years has changed significantly. The options available within the ad formats themselves are so incredibly different to what they used to be. Even the humble static ad has evolved with the ability to improve relevance by personalising the ad based on a variety of user attributes!

This realisation of new options available with Native has revolutionised the approach for many advertisers. No longer stuck in the role of a traffic driver, we are seeing performance in the use across the funnel.

Our Moments ad format is unique and powerful. A Moments ad delivers 100% viewability, 100% screen coverage all wrapped up in an efficient execution with zero production costs. This is truly a mobile brand format, enabling high reach for little investment. In a comparison vs. a mobile rich media execution with identical raw assets, we delivered the target reach result with just $13k media investment. The mobile rich media format required $28k of media to deliver the same reach. Additionally, by using a Moments format, the advertiser saved a further $6k in production! That’s over $21k of savings on a $13k campaign.

That’s just one example of one ad format which has driven performance for our advertisers. We’re seeing a trend towards advanced Native format options being included as a core channel to drive upper funnel results. That trend is encompassing Moments, but also video, interactive and the fully integrated formats we can deliver.

It’s not just in the top of the funnel however. Creative such as the feed-driven Dynamic Product Ads, and Countdown ads are delivering direct response results. In a large number of cases, these formats are providing better CPA & ROI than the traditional direct response formats of Search or Social and almost always beating display. Direct response results are being delivered best to advertisers who make advanced use of the data available through the Native platform. In fact, over 4 trillion data points enter our system each and every month.

Ultimately, the strongest performance is coming to those advertisers and agencies who are shaking off the legacy and wrong perception that Native is simply a traffic driver. That legacy mindset is damaging as it keeps your brand and your client locked into an approach that ignores all the options available. To ensure you are seeing the big impacts that Native can provide, first ask yourself a question: Do you think Native is only for traffic?

In what ways are Verizon Media utilising data insights and intent signals to further improve the relevancy of your native campaigns to various audiences?

Data is a core competence and strength at Verizon Media. We exist at the intersection of Culture & Code, with data being crucial for both. Culture is our ability to interpret, understand and ultimately influence culture through our wide reaching and trusted media properties such as Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance and Huffington Post. Culture is also the understanding of audiences enabled and translated with data. Code is the ad platforms that deliver campaigns for our clients across Native, DSP & SSP, and all campaigns across Verizon Media are influenced by data.

When it comes to utilising data insights and intent signals in our Native campaigns, we’re fortunate to own many incredibly diverse data sets, and rich partnerships with global and local owners of complementary data. All of these are accessible in Native.

One of the most powerful things we enable our advertisers to do is specify exactly how they want that data utilised in their campaigns. We also have a variety of planning tools, like Audience Insights, to help our advertisers to explore their audiences to give a richer and completely transparent understanding of the entire culture of their target audience. Essentially, an advertiser might know one attribute they want to target, and we can give them a complete view of the users who display that attribute.

While every advertiser has different needs and requests, there are a few common uses that we are asked to implement for our advertisers:

1. Target an audience based on purchase behaviour from online and offline sources.
2. Identify and target audiences more likely to be in-market for our category based on their search data and other signals.
3. Target specific socio-demographic details based on true data not predicted.
4. Target audiences based on interests gathered from across all of Verizon Media’s capabilities.
5. Activate my 1st party data from my DMP or other sources.
6. Use all the data available at Verizon Media and predict who is the most likely next buyer of my products.

Applying the audience cultures into Verizon Native empowers advertisers to achieve effective results. But more than just the results, we’re able to help our advertisers understand their audience culture better and improve all the activity.

I hope you’re getting a sense that I truly enjoy what Verizon Media is able to combine and deliver. I mentioned briefly a tool called Audience Insights earlier. I want to demonstrate how flexible and powerful this tool can be.

My partner is sitting next to me as I write this. She has just settled in to try and finish a Nintendo game. Inspired by her, I have just tapped into our purchase module in Audience Insights to look at the audience culture that is defined by the purchase of a product containing the keyword 'Nintendo' in the last 30 days. With thousands of different data points to look at, I was able to identify 2 simple clusters based on age, and then build out 2 audience cultures based on purchase of Nintendo products for each age bracket.

• The first audience culture is a group of 35-54 gamer-parents (over-indexing 35-54 by 42%)! Purchasers of a Nintendo product in that age bracket are more than 9x more likely to have kids than those who don’t. However, they are also 2.5x more likely to buy from Steam – which is a PC based platform for people who play games themselves. Please also note, there is not a gender difference! It’s not 'gamer-dad & supportive mum' or vice versa, both parents are equally likely to buy the games from other platforms.

• The second audience culture is a group of 18-24 early-career professional workers. This culture is hugely high on mobile media consumption, and they are doing it in short bursts and late at night. Compared to the exact same age group who didn’t buy a Nintendo product, the buyers spend about 20% less time with media, about 30% more frequently! There is also a huge over-indexation for mobile media consumption between midnight to 2am. I’m also calling them professionals, because in the last 30 days there’s an average 3x more purchase of office chairs, workstations & computers than those who didn’t buy Nintendo. Take a look at the early-career professionals in your agency – many of them have likely bought something Nintendo related in the last 30 days!

Hopefully you can see the benefit to enriching these audience cultures. With these audience insights you can immediately improve a media plan to be more relevant, but the creative brief is more clear and you can drive a result that is more effective as a result.


Justine O’Donnell, Head of Commercial Content, The Guardian Labs

Guardian Labs have been working heavily with Native products for over 6 years now, what lies at the heart of your ongoing commercial success with your brand partnerships?

At Guardian Labs we take a unique approach to native content and operate more as an editorial style commercial features desk than a branded content studio. Translation: we apply the same journalistic integrity that Guardian editorial is known for, and that our readers value and this is the key to our success.

In action this means we don’t so much write stories about products or brands nor shoehorn in brand messaging but rather craft genuine editorial stories that resonate with our progressive audiences’ mindset. Our style is to integrate a brand or product within but it is done in an organic and contextually relevant way.

Why do we do this? Credibility. Trust is at the core of our credibility, and our readers honour this with high engagement.

This has proven an extremely effective strategy in delivering results for our commercial partners - where we consistently over deliver on KPIs, and routinely see high dwell times and proven brand uplifts.

Our readers come to us because they know they can trust us to deliver well researched, genuinely interesting and relevant content of a high quality - they regularly seek out our content just as they would editorial.

And in turn, this is why our commercial partners have confidence in us to help them reach this audience and they see their campaigns and brands benefit from this trust halo that The Guardian masthead provides.

What recommendations do you have in relation to retaining authenticity in your Native collaborations with brands, so as to retain the high levels of trust that The Guardian has with your readers?

Authenticity is a great way to describe everything we do at Guardian Labs. And importantly, authenticity is not something you can fake. There is nothing cynical in our approach, and our genuine commitment to quality journalism is what our readers rely on us for.

Our approach when creating client content is to filter everything through a lens of authenticity. Our readers would tune out very quickly if we didn’t. And while it can be tempting when producing client content to simply push a brand message and acquiesce to client demands for product mentions, we see it as our role to work collaboratively with our partners on how to best reach our audience - and maintaining this authenticity and reader trust is key to this.

We know our readers won’t respond to the inauthenticity of heavy handed brand messaging, but equally we see their genuine response to content that resonates with them, and our partners are rewarded with the resulting shift in brand perception and high engagement that this delivers.


Kevin Delie, Head of Sales, Asia-Pacific, TripleLift

The recent standardisation of Native creative specs in DSPs has allowed for more dynamic templating, how are TripleLift also now looking to utilise audience data in order to help improve addressability?

Now that all major DSPs have fully built native workflows, we see native continuing its trajectory toward becoming a staple tactic on any campaign running programmatic display or video. In addition to being just as easy to set up as a Display campaign, traders using Native now apply all of the same data and targeting that they have  been using in traditional Display.

TripleLift was founded as a programmatic-first company, so early on we invested in programmatic ecosystem integrations, including DSPs, DMPs, and verification vendors like Moat and IAS. So when it comes to data, we're seeing the same benefits of programmatic Display being applied: for example, we recently launched a partnership with Nine, and Nine are now selling PMPs on 9News.com.au in native formats using their proprietary data.

Previously a buyer might have had to build custom creative for each publisher and run the campaign via IO, requiring lengthy approvals processes, creative costs, and limited data. Now they're now able to log into their favourite DSP, target the Deal ID that Nine issues to them, and activate instantly on native placements that perform 5-10x better than banner ads.

What else do you see evolving for programmatic Native over the next 12-18 months?

TripleLift's biggest bet in the near mid-term is that the concept of Native - non-intrusive ads that match their environment - will become commonplace not just on the web, but also across other media such as digital TV.

This of course already happens in pre-production, with manual product placements and brand insertions into shows at the time of filming. What excites us is that technology has now reached a point where brand creative can be inserted post-production, targeted to audiences and in real time. 

This means that, in a world where consumers are no longer tolerant of traditional commercial breaks and spots, and where they're increasingly watching video via OTT devices, publishers can use technology to create new post-production inventory for high-performing, proven ad formats like product insertion.

Sneak-peak secret: This isn't a hypothetical bet - TripleLift has already built this technology and is currently testing with a small number of beta partners...


Dylan Robinson, Australia & New Zealand Country Manager, Taboola

How can we best use all the data and technology we have at our disposal to ensure that readers willingly engage with branded content?

The technology should be using a large data set that is accurate and is derived from 1st party data, either the media vendor or advertiser, additionally the ad should be non disruptive and should be user choice. The advertiser should be able to access a wide range of segments, have insights on what users are engaging with and target them accordingly, I would also use Dynamic Creative Optimisation which then allows for greater personalisation of that creative to that specific user.

If you use a media partner that forces that user to view that ad then this can create a negative brand perception, a media partner should allow the user to choose if they want to click and engage with your ad through a non disruptive way that drives the best performance and brand prescription. At Taboola advertisers can access thousands of segments free of charge is non disruptive and give user choice if they want to click or engage with your ads.

Do you see Native as being better used as a tool to drive quick sales, or as a longer term brand builder?

Both, this relates to the buying metrics, scale and technology that a native provider has.

Firstly, the buying metric is critical, advertisers should only pay when a user engages with an ad by watching a video to the end (100% CPCV) and set the frequency cap to give you reach and build brand awareness. When an advertiser is driving towards a performance metric then CPC and CPA buying metrics should be used. At Taboola it is all outcome based buying metrics from CPCV's, CPC's and we can do CPA. Advertisers should use a partner that gives action based outcomes that can be tracked, measured and are transparent.

Scale is the next part of the equation, you must have large reach across Australia and beyond; scale gives you the accuracy to identify which user is interested in that product. At Taboola we reach over 1.4 billion users globally and over 94% across Australia, when we merge with OutBrian this will give Taboola 2.2 Billion users.

Having a partner that has their own proprietary technology is a smart choice, this creates a seamless workflow with the algorithms and avoids ad collusion. For a brand you want technology that is easy to use and re-purpose creative you already have created for likes of YouTube, Facebook etc. Performance you need to react to the market and minimise the production costs of building creative, again re-purposing creative or use a provider that allows you to create creative for you free of charge. At Taboola all of our technology is proprietary and we have free to use production house.

How is Taboola working to support the commercial future of the open internet, whilst still ensuring that consumer privacy remains a core priority?

Taboola is at the forefront of supporting the open internet and has partnered with thousands of leading publishers around the world - we're an important part to their commercial future. Some of the most innovative digital properties in the world have strong relationships with Taboola, including CNBC, NBC News, USA TODAY, BILD, Sankei, Huffington Post, Business Insider, The Independent and many leading Australian publishers. These partnerships give publishers access to products like Taboola Newsroom, which provides data and insights that inform editorial decisions that can increase their subscriptions, revenue and page impressions.

We’ve also partnered with the largest device manufacturers in the world, such as Vivo and ZTE, to bring a new strategic advantage to premium publishers underpinning the open web. These Taboola News integrations allow our publishers to engage readers at no cost, featuring their content in exclusive touchpoints on devices beyond the open web and drive audiences directly to their page.

Privacy is important, which is why consumers don’t need to provide personal data to benefit from our offerings. We care about helping people discover news across the open web instead of behind walled gardens.


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