Zemanta on the Content Advertising Revolution

Bostjan Spetic
Sep 22, 2016

The below interview with Zemanta Product Marketing Manager Dillon Ferdinandi first appeared on Thalamus.

For those of us that aren’t familiar with Zemanta, please tell us a little more on your offering and platform.

We enable marketers — from Fortune 500 companies to digital agencies — to connect with customers through content. Our platform, combines cross-channel media buying, audience insight tools and aggregated post-click metrics. As more and more organization adopt content marketing as a core strategy they need technology and services to help scale, automate and optimize their programs.

Native is a relatively broad term, can encompass a direct ad buy with a publisher, branded content, a sponsored post, or a certain form factor that fits within editorial content. What is your definition of native and how do you see it evolving over the next few years?

That’s a great point, the term native is very broad. Mobile app install ads are native. In-feed ads are native too. Most people consider native to be an ad that fits within the form and function of the user experience it inhabits. By that definition you could argue that TV ads are native! At Zemanta we like to say Content Ads, meaning any ad unit that can use original marketing content (article headline, image, description) as the creative.

Native started off as a publisher ad format (Advertorials, for example), but due to technology, was mechanized where ad networks can now also offer these formats at scale across many publisher sites. Do you see many other ad networks jumping on the native bandwagon in the coming years by plugging into the core native exchanges and re-positioning their offering as native?

We may see some networks and exchanges re-position their offerings as native, but only if they truly are native. Native represents the evolution of online advertising formats. It’s a better format for publishing and monetizing, and we believe it will become the predominant format for publishers. Ad blocking also pushes us in that direction, because when ads are native to the page they need to be executed better otherwise they degrade the publisher’s own editorial content. Great content is great content whether it’s an ad or not. For example, millions of people watched Felix Baumgartner freefall from the edge of space in a video produced by Red Bull.

What do you think is the biggest challenge the digital advertising industry faces today?

There is a tremendous amount of change going on in the industry. Native is definitely one of those big shifts. Brands acting as publishers is another major shift and that means a very different interaction within the ecosystem. Marketing has completely changed with the rise of content, but it’s still going to take time for brands to adopt and do well. Industry changes in general take time; we’re only 20 years into digital. The focus has traditionally been on campaigns and last click, but now it’s about telling stories so it’s going to take time to figure out.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions of native?

The biggest misconception is that native is just about hosting sponsored content on publisher sites. It’s much broader than that. Most of the native ad formats are just a teaser to drive audiences back your own content. In our experience it’s more beneficial to drive audiences back to your own content where you can gather data (audience, content insights) than having it hosted directly on the publisher’s page.

Many publishers use Content Recommendation players like Taboola, Outbrain, and RevContent to increase the reach of their audience. What is your opinion using native ad networks or content recommendation networks to boost their audience numbers?

Publishers promoting content is no different than marketers promoting content. Publishers are extremely effective at it and ultimately showing marketers how to do it. As content promotion becomes more widely adopted publishers might eventually get priced out as brands pay more for the premium slots. But that’s not a bad thing, that means publishers will be able to focus on creating premium content since their own ad units will be monetizing at much higher rates.

Zemanta is plugged into most of the native ad exchanges such as Outbrain, Triplelift, Yahoo! AOL,Adknowledge, Rubicon Project, Avocarrot, Adiant, Gum Gum, Mopub, AdsNative, Yieldmo,Sharethrough, Spoutable, and others. Can you share a little more on the key differences on a few of these exchanges in terms of the inventory types they offer?

The challenge with display is that the industry agreed on standard formats very early on. We’ve now been living with those same formats for the past 20 years. That rigidity has restricted experimentation for publishers. For native to be done right publishers need to have formats that can be integrated within the user experience. Each publisher can now find what’s best for them, which is leading to an increase in experimentation and creativity. For brands this is both a challenge and opportunity. Marketers now have a wide range of options for promoting their content but aren’t quite sure how to get started. That’s why Zemanta is here.

Are there any innovations in digital advertising right now that excite you the most?

We’ll look back a generation from now and say, “we can’t believe brands did mass marketing!” Marketing is becoming completely authentic and more personalized. People like the marketing from brands like Under Armour and Nike because they want to engage with those brands.

How does ad blocking affect native ad units that are bought programmatically? Are there any effects at all?

We’re not worried about ad blocking and neither are our customers. Great content can be ads and great ads can be content. While the industry does have some concerns in the interim, the long term promise of native is that marketing will become more conversational and personalized, and that’s the kind of marketing people actually want to interact with!

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Bostjan Spetic

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