The Visual Web: Where Programmatic And Native Meet

By enabling a format that allows native ads to be delivered programmatically, brands can be much more specific with their targeting and achieve better results.

The Visual Web: Where Programmatic And Native Meet

As anyone who regularly flips through a Facebook feed or reads BuzzFeed knows, the Web is becoming more visual.

More than 2 billion images are shared across the Internet each day, and photo-based social media networks such as Instagram and Pinterest are hitting all-time highs (400 million and 100 million monthly users, respectively). This presents some unique opportunities for two growing marketing tools—native and programmatic advertising—that heretofore have been difficult to wed.

First of all, let’s be clear on what we mean when we say “native ad.” Fundamentally, a native ad is an ad unit placed on a website that is designed to match the format of that website and look like another piece of editorial content, albeit slightly altered or labeled as “sponsored” or “advertisement” to avoid confusion and stay within IAB and FTC guidelines.

Until recently, it was commonly thought that native ads could never effectively be delivered programmatically because an ad delivered via an algorithm would stick out like a sore thumb. The subtleties of each site’s editorial voice, design aesthetics, and context were too much for an algorithm to tackle with authentic results, and that’s not even taking into account the different sizes of content modules on the thousands of editorial websites across the Internet. (Programmatic works for banner or preroll ads because the spaces they occupy are dedicated ad units with standardized dimensions and specifications.)

This is where the rise of the visual Web comes in. Yes, we all know about Instagram’s 400 million monthly users, and Pinterest boasts 100 million monthly users, but the visual increase is also happening on more traditionally text-based editorial sites.

Politico, for example, dedicates 31% of its home page to engaging visual content, while Quartz dedicates a whopping 61%. Mic’s home page immediately fills the screen with a massive image promoting its main story, followed by large thumbnails promoting articles and videos below.

Publishers are moving in this direction because it’s what their audiences want. BuzzFeed, with its listicles full of images and GIF-filled pieces, pulls in five billion monthly content views, for example. This shift isn’t replacing articles for visuals, but it is placing images in much more prominent and noticeable places as entry points to traditional articles. It’s a trend that publishers and advertisers can use to their advantage.

The great advantage of images is that they’re everywhere, and they have a more uniformed format than articles or infographics, making it easier to look at them as standardized ad units themselves. And the greater number of them on websites and social media means more available advertising space, and the format means it’s easier for that space to be made available programmatically. So the more visual a publisher becomes, the easier it is to craft ads that resemble the other content on its site.

Essentially, publishers can bring the real-time bidding (RTB) auction they use for banner ads to other parts of their pages because a sponsored image or visual would match the look and feel of the rest of the page. Then advertisers could use specific behavioral and intent data to ensure that the ads delivered are personally relevant and appealing to the individual customer while still matching the context of the publisher, such as the image-heavy native ad carousel on MSN or The Atlantic’s image-centric native ads. Doing this will help publishers maximize their revenue streams while ensuring that brands are getting the most for their advertising spend.

Utilizing the visual Web can help solve the problems that programmatic and native are facing today. By enabling a format that allows native ads to be delivered programmatically, brands can be much more specific with their targeting and achieve better results. Publishers can also harness the popularity of the visual Web in order to monetize more of their content without sacrificing the user experience.

In essence, the visual Web empowers the results of native advertising to be delivered at the scale of programmatic. As more publishers embrace images, the visual Web’s ability to enable native at scale is an opportunity that brands must capitalize on.