To Persuade Anyone Of Anything, You First Need Their Attention: Why Native Ads Are Now The Primary Display Unit

on Programmatic Native

The death knell for the banner ad was rung long ago. So you might be surprised to learn that display advertising is alive and kicking.

Native ads have supplanted banners as the primary display medium, and with more attention, higher clickthrough rates and lower effective costs, that’s great news for brand advertisers.

There’s a longstanding misconception that native is synonymous with content marketing. And while it’s true distributing branded or sponsored content is a great use of native, it’s not the only tactic to which the ad format is suited.

Increasingly brands are using native in more “traditional” applications: to extend the reach of a TV spot, for example, or to drive traffic to a strategic landing page. In the past pre-roll and banners would be used to accomplish these ends. But with the explosion of mobile, and the rise of the discontented consumer, marketing strategies must change.

Native ads have supplanted banners as the primary display medium, and with more attention, higher clickthrough rates and lower effective costs, that’s great news for brand advertisers.

Native ads, not banners, have emerged as the standard digital ad format. In 2016 more than half of all display revenue will come from native formats, and in five years, native is projected to make up three quarters of the display market. Despite the obvious headwinds, display can still be an effective digital marketing tactic. Retargeting users who abandoned their shopping cart, or promoting the new season of Netflix’s Chef to foodies are still great use cases for banners. (Native would also play a role in those examples.) If the goal is to remind the user of something they’ve already shown interest in, banners remain effective in certain cases.

But when trying to persuade a consumer, to sway their opinion, or motivate a change in behavior, native is unequivocally the best solution. Why? Because to persuade anyone of anything, you first need their attention.

Banners are notoriously bad at getting people’s attention—in-feed native ads are built for it.

A native ad with a headline receives twice as much visual attention as a banner ad, even one placed in feed. This can be the difference between being read and merely been seen.

The fact that native ads are better creative and strategic tools of persuasion than banners is proven in brand lift studies as well. Native ads result in 18% higher lift in purchase intent than banners.

Let’s say GE is trying to convince chief household officers it’s more than just an appliances company. With a banner, the execution might look something like this.


Right message, solid design, but the reality is, no matter how great it looks, or where it’s placed—right-hand rail, top of the page, or even within the feed—the end user is going to treat it as a banner: they may glance at it, but they certainly won’t take the time to read it.

Here’s the same message transformed into an in-feed native ad with a headline:


Here the message is plainly spelled out in a form—the headline—that will feel familiar to the reader. And because it’s placed in-feed and matches the form and function of the surrounding editorial, the end consumer is far more likely to read and be influenced by the message.

Driving Traffic With Native

Beyond awareness, native is also more effective at driving traffic.

Attention, and specifically viewability, is at play here—you can’t click on what you don’t see. But headlines also present the unique ability to entice readers to explore a topic further. Some companies have taken this to the extreme, which is how we’ve ended up with click-bait: headlines for which the payoff doesn’t live up to the hype.

Even without hyperbole and extremes, headlines are uniquely suited to stopping readers in the feed and arousing their curiosity, which can in turn lead to quality clicks. This is why clickthrough rates for native ads are orders of magnitude greater than banners.

Imagine that New Balance is trying to drive women to their online store. The banner version of this tactic might look something like this:


Here’s how a native ad would accomplish the same thing:


Through the headline, the native ad is actually making a case for readers to click, inviting them to “see what’s trending.” This is a far more straightforward and effective way to drive clicks than the tagline, “go further, work harder.”

Display advertising isn’t what it used to be. We’re now two or three years past the point of “peak banner” and it’s time brands upgraded their display strategies.

Native Is Only More Expensive If You Ignore Performance

Brands sometimes balk at the higher cost of native ads, costs that often dwarf those of display. But the difference in clickthrough rates for native ads and those of banners more than makes up any price differential. If you do the math, native ad performance crushes banners—it’s not even close.

Let’s say a display ad costing $5 CPM delivers a 0.1 percent clickthrough rate: an effective cost per click of $5.

In-feed native ad bids on Sharethrough often clear at $10—twice what banner ads costs. But these ads consistently generate clickthrough rates of one percent, ten times the average banner CTR, delivering a cost per click of just $1.

Leveling Up Display

We’re now two or three years past the point of “peak banner” and it’s time brands upgrade their display strategies. With more attention, better brand lift, higher clickthrough rates, and five times the return on investment, native ads are a no-brainer.