How-Tos

Native Video Advertising: How to Drive Views and Engagement


It’s hard to miss the buzz around native advertising. It has grown in popularity as an alternative to traditional digital display ads, and as an antidote to so-called “banner blindness.”

Native ads are designed to blend into the stream of editorial content on a website or mobile app. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Native Advertising Task Force defines them as ads “that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”

Native video ads also resemble the editorial content that surrounds them, unlike more traditional formats like pre-rolls or overlays. Advertisers provide a headline, the content URL, their logo, and sometimes a short description, which the publication or ad platform then uses to create a native ad that suits its environment. This means the ad looks different from publication to publication, even if the same content is deployed.

These differences give native ads some unique advantages compared to those traditional formats. Capitalizing can require some fresh thinking.

Why Go Native?

“Native ads are inherently engaging,” says Benjamin Arnold, vice president of operations for the video distribution platform Giant Media, “which gives them an advantage over pre-roll and other forced-view video ads that dominate online advertising.”

That engagement begins because a user chooses to stop and view the ad, already with an understanding of what it’s about based upon the headline and thumbnail. There’s evidence that opt-in engagement has benefits.

Chris Schreiber, vice president of marketing and communication for the adtech company ShareThrough, explains, “We did a study with Nielsen taking the same core video asset distributed through pre-roll and native. Pre-roll barely saw a lift, and with native ads every single campaign had meaningful brand lift.”

Another recent study by Nielsen, partnered with the content syndication company Instinctive, demonstrated a 90 percent brand lift for a large consumer electronics brand in a native ad campaign that included a mix of ad types across properties like Variety and tech site BGR.com. “Video was a big part of the campaign,” says Instinctive’s head of sales and partnerships Henry Lau.

Native Inspirations

As these three examples illustrate, there is ample opportunity for creativity with an effective native ad.

Dollar Shave Club’s hilariously quirky and deadpan video from 2012, “Our Blades Are F***ing Great,” is often acknowledged as an early native campaign success story, with over 21 million views on YouTube and over 140 million overall. Giant Media ran this campaign for the young company, and Arnold says it worked because it was “content-first.” As a result, “it set the tone for the company’s new brand and immediately cemented its status as a major player in the highly competitive men’s grooming industry. All from a smart, funny video made in-house on the cheap.”

HelloJetmanLau says a recent viral video campaign by Emirates Airlines called #HelloJetman caught his attention. It has racked up over 14 million earned views, but would also “make for a great one to do a paid native campaign with.” The video captures aerial formations performed by an A380 jetliner alongside two jetpack-wearing members of Jetman Dubai. “The great thing about the Jetman piece is that it’s a compelling piece of content,” that demonstrates how, “we have to shift from creating ads to creating content.”

The Opera Mediaworks division AdColony is a mobile app-focused ad platform. For the mobile environment, the company’s senior vice president of business development and marketing, Nikao Yang, points to an Adidas Superstar shoes campaign that performed particularly well in an in-feed autoplay format on apps like Shazam and the New York Daily News. The black-and-white video lasts just eight seconds, and Yang identifies several qualities that make it work: there are quick cuts featuring close-ups of Pharrell, “as the hero in the ad,” and close-ups of the shoes, followed by “large-text call-outs about the superstar line of shoes.”

PharrellNativeThe ad is set to Pharrell’s music and voice-over. However, because autoplay videos are muted by default, it was important that, “if you didn’t have audio on you didn’t lose much value. You still got what he was trying to get across.”

This was one of nine campaigns Opera Mediaworks tested in a study with ComScore that showed in-app autoplay videos performed better than the mobile norm across all ad types for metrics like ad recall and consumer perception of the ad.

Native Tips

Here is some expert advice for creating successful content that makes the most of the native ad format.

  • Use all the tools. Native ads come with components that are largely missing with other formats. Exploit them.

“The initial optimization is the thumbnail image, because that is big in terms of real estate on the page,” Lau recommends.

Then turn your attention to the headline, which is one of the biggest visual draws. Shreiber observs, “It gives you that extra context and makes it faster for someone to understand both the brand and the message.”

  • Captivate with content. “Make it memorable,” Arnold emphasizes. To pique viewers’ interest, Lau suggests focusing on individual peoples and their lives, following their stories. You want to “get someone hooked on the storyline.”

As seen in the Adidas campaign, Yang emphasizes the value of “quick cuts and close-ups,” including “hero shots of the product [and] hero shots of the characters.” Large text callouts are important, especially in mobile. “Don’t think it’s going to be viewed the same as on a 60-inch screen.”

Arnold also notes, “Brands that focus on good content will experience strong recall and awareness, even though many times the brand itself is taking a backseat to the story being told.”

  • Don’t bury the lede. According to Schreiber, “It’s important to get the brand integration in off the bat.” The conventional wisdom in television and pre-rolls is that if you lead with the logo then viewers tune out. “So we did a study last quarter about brand logos in the first five seconds and saw no impact on completion.”

Particularly if you’re using an autoplay video, “you need to hook the user immediately,” Yang says. “Because the user is potentially scrolling past immediately, you have only two to three seconds to earn or gain their trust to pause the scroll.”

  • Plan to revise. As with any digital ad campaign, monitor performance and be ready to make adjustments. Planning for this at the outset will make life easier.

“Shoot so that you can reassemble the pieces to optimize performance,” Lau recommends. Schreiber says it’s good, “not to have just the one headline and the one permutation of the video.” That way, if you’re using an ad platform you can have “infinite tests of headlines and permutations.”




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