A warning from the adblockalypse – why marketers must be careful as the industry starts to ‘go native’…

A funny thing happened late last year.

Something that, if you work in the agency business, you’ll know doesn’t happen very often.

A marketer admitted he was wrong.

*pause for gasps of shock*

According to Scott Cunningham, Vice President of the Internet Advertising Bureau…

As marketers, we lost track of the user experience. We built ad technology to optimise publishers’ share of marketing budgets that had eroded. Looking back now, our scraping of dimes may have cost us dollars in consumer loyalty and trust.

Translation? ‘We got greedy and fucked up’. 

Looking back, it’s easy to see that marketers were gripped by the same group mania that comes over us during times of economic boom. But instead of ‘let’s all buy houses’, it manifested as ‘let’s throw as much digital display in front of people, no matter how much it annoys them’.


Over the years, we saw a general slackening in ethics and professionalism and a growing willingness to annoy people if it meant bigger budgets. A majority of our industry forgot about creating beautiful, interesting, creative display advertising, and instead focused resources on ugly, annoying probably unseen display.

And now we’re reaping the rewards of that. Ad blocking is growing, there’s a backlash over ad fraud and other areas of digital like social and video are growing instead.

Another area that’s set for huge growth in the immediate aftermath of ‘adblockalypse’ is ‘native advertising’.Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 16.20.33While it’s a buzzword, ‘native’ in theory makes sense. It’s designed to deliver valuable, relevant content to consumers in a manner that embeds into a website’s natural fabric.

In its best format, native is premium, brand sponsored ‘in-stream’ content that credibly blends in, but also actually entertains or informs the user. It’s growing because of a number of combined factors.

This isn’t ‘just editorial’, and it’s remiss to think of it that way.

Publishers like Buzzfeed Vice, NYT, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and many more are opening ‘branded content’ studios. Agencies are cropping up dealing solely with the area of native, and the predictions are huge. Figures from Yahoo and Enders Analysis suggest that spending on native advertising would reach €13.2 billion by 2020 – a 156% increase on today – and take a 52% share of the digital display market. Within the UK, native adverting expenditure was predicted to grow 129% over the same period, from €1.7bn to €3.9bn.

Great right? According to Joseph Evans, a digital media analyst at Enders Analysis, ‘native advertising looks like a rare win-win for the industry: more effective for advertisers, more valuable for publishers and more acceptable for users.’

But every silver lining has its cloud and things that look too good to be true often are, particularly in the fast paced world of marketing.

Silver Bullet?

If we start to believe that native is a silver bullet and it starts to become accepted on all media plans, then by the nature of any diffusion curve, it starts to become less effective, and people start to abuse it. When anything goes mass market, it starts getting twisted and made into a dark art, just like with parts of the SEO and digital display industry.

For a platform that’s as ethically dangerous as sponsored content (questions of editorial control have already cropped up), this starts to become an issue. Already, 62% of people think a news site loses credibility when it publishes native ads. Two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand and 54% of readers don’t trust sponsored content at all.

In monetary terms, this is huge growth. But, just like with display advertising, it also comes with the heavy caveat that too much of something will make you sick. We need to be careful and always mindful of user experience with native, because just like digital display, the consumer is not being kept in mind.

If it continues, the cumulative effect is that marketing will find itself in a similar scenario to the ‘adblockalypse’ in a few years, but this time with consumer ire focused on ‘native’.

A mantra from the world of high finance is that ‘every 8-10 years, people will forget that there’s a recession every 8-10 years‘. We’ve a short memory and get carried away with ourselves very quickly.

As marketers, we can’t afford that with native advertising, lest any trust that’s left between our industry and the consumer be eroded.

By all means ‘go native’.

But this time around, let’s all be a little more aware of the end consumer.