In late 2013, Facebook kicked off the merger of native advertising and real-time bidding (RTB) with the introduction of the Facebook Exchange (FBX).
To accommodate the social giant, major Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) built support for FBX, which principally meant adding support for creative metadata - headlines, thumbnails, and the like.
See the success of FBX, web publishers and ad tech companies started to hypothesize about how they could bring the same native RTB capabilities to sites and applications outside of Facebook.
Those murmurs have become louder over the past two years, and we are finally at a point where it is inevitable that the worlds of native ads and RTB will merge.
There are still several myths about what that merger means for the advertising technology industry and how we close the gap to true standardization.
It's important to define how I am using the term native advertising before going any further.
I am not referring to sponsored content, a la the sponsored editorial post created by brand content teams at publishers like Buzzfeed, Quartz, etc.
I am referring to the paid media category that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) clearly defined in the Native Ad Playbook.
The IAB recognizes six native ad formats: in-feed, content recommendation widgets, search, promoted listings, custom content and IAB in-Ad native.
All of the formats follow the same core definition: ads that match the form (front end visual design elements) and function (user experience) of each site they are placed on.
The process of bringing RTB integration to these native ad formats, particularly the in-feed ad model, is the focus for these five myths.
Myth #1: Native RTB is live!
Multiple platforms have experimented with custom solutions to merge RTB capabilities with automated native ad delivery, but there currently is no standard that all publishers and platforms can utilize.
FBX, Facebook’s exchange, offers the ability to programmatically buy native ads at scale on Facebook, but this solution does not offer a standard that open web publishers can adopt.
Standardization for Native RTB is coming very soon.
The IAB is now in the final stages of completing the OpenRTB 2.3 spec, which for the first time will include support for native ads.
This draft is currently going through final IAB comment and approval process.
Over the next three months, you can expect to see a feverish level of activity between native technology players pushing integrations with DSPs to truly bring Native RTB to the industry at scale.
Myth #2: Native ads will never be standardized.
While native advertising at some point may have been a synonym for “non standard”, we’ve come a long way.
In-feed, native ads are the natural candidate to quickly become the first native ad format to scale as an RTB inventory source.
There is already a lot of scale to in-feed native inventory on mobile.
More than 60% of the top 100 U.S. publishers already use native, in-feed ads on their mobile properties.
Feed design lends itself well to easily standardizing native ad placements because of the repetitive formatting of each feed component: thumbnail image, headline and description.
Automated, in-feed templating has already been tackled by multiple ad tech platforms for non-RTB buying and selling.
The next step to truly scale this inventory source with RTB demand will come from the OpenRTB2.3 spec.
With that standardization, DSPs will be ready to build the abilities to ingest and pass on the necessary metada to native SSPs.
Myth #3: Native RTB won’t work on mobile.
Quite the contrary.
Mobile has the potential to receive the majority of native RTB impressions, due to the fact that supply often outstrips demand for native, in-feed inventory on the mobile web.
This delta is largely caused by the lack of programmatic buying standards.
The added benefit for buyers in this scenario is that when Open RTB 2.3 plugs into in-feed inventory on mobile, it will open up one of the highest impact channels for programmatic buying.
This will lead to a much healthier future for mobile advertising than kicking off mobile inventory as lower quality and higher quantitiy, a problem carried over from desktop advertising.
The major Digital Management Platforms (DMPs), whose data is used prominently in programmatic targeting, have all added support for mobile over the past few years.
Although data density may be lower than desktop, the same targeting abilities that advertisers are used to on desktop are available on mobile.
Myth #4: RTB will reduce the premium nature of native ads.
This is obviously a concern for any publisher that is considering opening up their coveted native placements to RTB demand sources, which for display have often resulted in lower quality.
Because native follows the form and function of organic content and becuase it's built into the experience of a website or app, the quality bar has been set much higher.
RTB is a technology for transacting, and it is just as capable of carrying high quality brand advertising.
There is no reason that RTB needs to bring down the value of native ads — in fact, done well they should only help increase the value.
Native RTB will offer advertisers more native placement opportunities and brand advertisers are anxious to take advantage of automation.
Publishers will need advanced controls to dictate what forms of creative and what types of buyers they accept for native ad placements and it will be on them to maintain quality.
Becuase smart publishers value their visitors, they'll want to ensure quality ads fit into a quality content experience.
Myth #5: It’s complicated to buy since the workflow and creative requirements are different.
The workflow for RTB and standard native advertising will be almost identical in terms of setup time, though the assets that are being sent over will be different.
The core difference between native programmatic buying and the current display model will be the delivery of metadata – the headline, description, links and thumbnails — instead of rich media files.
Facebook was able to overcome this, so it's really about an extending a highly common industry practice.