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The History of Native Advertising: Everything You Need to Know

  • 14 August 2017
  • Dean Schmid

Native advertising is dominating headlines and finding its way onto the sites of credible publishers.


Because it gets results. According to Business Insider, native ads will drive 74% of all ad revenue by 2021.

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And while the future of native advertising is exciting, we can learn a lot about native by delving into its past.

The History of Native Advertising: Everything You Need to Know

The native ad trend is demonized by the media, headlines like ‘the end of credible journalism’ position native ads as this new malicious format which disguises itself as trustworthy content while deceiving us and secretly serving the lizard people. Image result for native ad hysteria

The irony is that native advertising isn’t new. In fact, it predates everything digital and comes from humble beginnings in the age of print.

1. The Early Days of Print Native Advertising

In 1915, Cadillac came out with this sponsored article. Related image

There is no mention of Cadillac in the text, but it talks about the superior man who leads the pack and strives for greatness. The message is clear; he who is first, the envy of all men, drives a Cadillac.

Linda Lawson's 1988 paper, “Advertisements Masquerading as News in Turn-of-the-Century American Periodicals,” Lists dozens of reading notices which were advertisements written as news copy that was published by the newspapers for money.

2. Radio Native Advertising

Radio took up native advertising in the 1920s. Companies would sponsor broadcasts, and without deviating from the regular format of a show, products would be mentioned natively by the presenters.

In the 1930s brands started to sponsor the rapidly growing sports broadcasts. In 1934 The Ford Motor Company paid $100,000 to sponsor the World Series on radio. Interestingly, before Ford’s broadcast, covering the world series was treated as a public service by radio broadcaster, and AT&T covered the line charge.

Gillet was the exclusive sponsor of radio and later television world series broadcasts until 1966.

You might have noticed that all of these forms of native advertising are still used today. It’s reassuring to know this ad strategy has longevity.

Your native advertising campaign might need the occasional tune up, but the fundamentals stand the test of time.

If anything, marketers have taken these native formats and built on them. Half-time sponsored entertainment, brands on the back of player’s jerseys, and companies buying sports stadiums, are all example of how marketers has native advertising, in sports at least, down to a science.

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3. Native Advertising in Film

The 1920s to 1930s saw native advertisement find its way into films via product placement. Looking back at them now, some of these plugs are so in your face it’s comical.

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4. Soap Operas Sell Soap Natively

Soap Operas were broadcast on the radio before they started on television, but these melodramatic series were cheap content sponsored by companies and used to sell soap. Before the short commercial was standardized across networks, companies needed to bring out an entire show just to slot in commercial.

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5. Infomercials the Slice of Life History of Native Advertising

The 1980s brought the infomercial to screens. They originally ran for up to half an hour outside of prime time to supplement regular programming. This relieved the content curation and creation duties of the network and gave brands access to the 79 million households with televisions.

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Infomercials now cost between $25,000 to $250,000 to make, which is still less than the $350,000 for the average prime time commercial. Today DRTV is worth approximately $250 billion.

”In fact, with the worth of the entire U.S. network and cable industry estimated at $97 billion as of 2013, DRTV is much bigger than TV itself.” – The Week.

Surprised? Don’t be, even with ridiculously overpriced prime-time TV ads, selling adverting real estate isn’t as lucrative as selling things.

I know we are getting off topic, but Jon Morrow puts it into an eloquent word in his “How to Make Money Blogging Post.”

6. History of Native Advertising Online

Along came the internet, and native advertising had a new home.

Google’s search ads have been buried alongside organic results, since the beginning. These ads propelled early adopters of digital marketing and helped monetize one of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Modern native advertising is extremely diverse. It can be a programmatically served, redirect the user to another page of relevant content, or a video watched to unlock another turn in a mobile game.

Image result for Mobile game native advertising

Recommendation widgets, mobile wallet coupons, promoted listings; people are good at taking a concept and expanding on it, native advertising is a testament to that ability.

Image result for in feed native advertising

7. Social Media is The True Home of Native Advertising.

When Facebook launched ‘pages’ in 2007 the era of social media marketing started to make sense.

Previously, Facebook only had banner ads, called Facebook Flyers, and clicking on them redirected you to another site. Pages allowed companies to build brands on Facebook’s platform, and Facebook was happy because it kept traffic on Facebook.

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In 2009, Facebook lets page owners set up and manage their own ads for the first time. They let advertisers segment users and target their main markets using criteria like language, location, and ddemographics

Then the native advertising revolution came in 2011 with the introduction of sponsored posts and in-feed advertisements.

8. Buzzfeed’s Native Advertising

Contrary to popular belief, Buzzfeed did not invent native advertising. It is just one of thousands of publishers using native advertising to monetize their online presence.

Buzzfeed is always in the headlines, and often painted in a negative light, for using native advertising. I don’t know if it’s because they are a big identifiable brand, or maybe people hold Buzzfeed’s tabloid journalism to a higher standard, but this company is ridiculed for what I think are well disclosed in-feed ads.

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It is pretty obvious that’s an advertisement. Still, The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK reprimanded Buzzfeed in 2016 for using words like presented by and in partnership with.

9. Programmatic Native Advertising

We have left history behind now and are embarking on the next chapter in native advertising’s journey. Advances in behavioral targeting and the massive uptake of programmatic advertising have led to an increase in native advertising being served programmatically.

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Programmatic ads can be served across platforms, and better native creatives are being made as marketers allocated more resources.

Advertisers want to reach a targeted audience, in the most relevant feeds. We want to retarget the right people as they leave our sites, and find ways to draw them into the funnel. This is the opportunity programmatic affords.


About Dean Schmid