Digital traffic is surging during the pandemic — with global visitor increases of up to 84% — creating a corresponding increase in advertising opportunities. And indeed, consumers are receptive to brands, with 43% saying they find it reassuring to hear from those that they know and trust.

However, audience expectations are high. While now more than ever, consumers are dependent on digital content for entertainment and vital information, they expect ads to work with the content, instead of interrupting it. At the same time, they also want communications from brands to be upfront, trustworthy, and relevant.

Designed to make a subtle yet powerful impact, native advertising is well placed to meet these needs; especially in the form of content recommendation which leaves the choice to engage with consumers. But to maintain balance, native strategies must be planned with multiple factors in mind; keeping a keen eye on openness, brand safety, and trust.

Follow best practice

As the crisis sees audience trust tied more closely to brand actions — 65% of consumers expecting to base future buying decisions on the way brands behaved during the pandemic — the best route to maintaining current confidence is aligning with the highest standards. And right now, that means obeying the rules of the IAB native playbook.

Released in 2019, the updated playbook is intended to help advertisers make sense of recent evolution in native advertising. Core ads types have been revised to remove those that don’t count as truly native, such as standard ads with native elements, and once disparate formats are now unified; falling under in-feed/in-content, content recommendations, or branded content. The playbook also features guidelines for managing the variances that come with different types of native ads, as well as details on non-negotiable attributes.

For example, while there will be different levels of alignment with surrounding content across categories — such as exact content mirroring for in-feed ads and greater design differentiation for content recommendations placed below editorial — clear and prominent disclosure is always essential to avoid confusing consumers and maintain transparency.

Keep native brand safe

As native popularity has grown, advertisers have looked to optimize revenues and reach with greater scale and efficiency. Put simply, automation is increasing, with nearly 88% of native display due to run through programmatic pipes this year. Yet the rise in native programmatic trading also increases the risk of potential negative associations for buyers and sellers.

Brand safety is a key industry challenge — named as a serious concern for 60% of advertising professionals — and the global pandemic has driven increased sensitivity around online ad placement. Moreover, it’s also arguably more vital for native placements than most, as ads are seamlessly integrated with the content around them, creating strong links between the brand and publisher. When quality, relevance and suitability is high on both sides, this is a good thing; both media owners and advertisers enhance their reputation with consumers. Bad matches, however, have the opposite effect.

Choosing trading partners carefully at this time is therefore essential. The supply and demand side must select networks that prioritize media security for programmatic and non-automated native ads. For instance, on the buy side, that could mean constant quality scanning and a portfolio of premium publishers — and for media owners providing better safety assurance may involve enabling integration of independent verification tools that brands and demand-side vendors can use to evaluate content against specific risk thresholds prior to placement.

Native has the potential to answer the growing call for more balanced digital advertising that complements online content and audience needs, but its long-term success will depend on the way ads are used. Simply increasing adoption and automated efficiency isn’t enough to sustain the trust of increasingly cynical and ad-weary audiences. To ensure native success, advertisers must keep the user experience front and center; building and delivering messages that prioritize trust and openness, and align with industry standards, while ensuring ad placements are brand safe.