5 Science-Backed Tips To Creating Better Native Ads

on Cognative

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from a new ebook by Sharethrough and Column Five, The Science Behind How Native Ads Work: 8 Essential Tips To Improve Your Ad Creatives. Download the ebook here.

Congratulations! People are paying attention to your native ads.

Nielsen Neuro Labs and Sharethrough recently discovered that native ads receive two times more visual focus than banners, even when those banners are placed in the feed of a publication.

This follows 2014 announcements from Upworthy and The New York Times that their sponsored content is as popular as their editorial.

Now that we know the ads are being read, the challenge is making those impressions matter. That may seem a tall order for the headline and a thumbnail.

Fortunately, the same research confirming that native ads are being read also provides insight into how to make those ads more engaging on a subconscious level.

We've combed through the data and pulled out five of the most actionable insights for creating better native ads. Discover more tips for optimizing your native ad creatives in the new ebook from Sharethrough and Column Five, "The Science Behind How Native Ads Work: 8 Essential Tips To Improve Your Ad Creatives."

1. Spice Up Your Headline With A Metaphor

Metaphors are one of the oldest writing tricks in the book, going back to Shakespeare ("All the world's a stage") and even the Bible ("The Lord is my shepherd"). But they are more than just a literary device. Scientists at Princeton and the Free University of Berlin have demonstrated that metaphorical sentences are more emotionally engaging and persuasive than the same sentences written literally.

Imagine two identical baby toys, one claims to amaze you, while the other promises to melt your heart. Which are you more likely to buy?

TL;DR: When it comes to native, don't be so literal, breathe life into your words with metaphors.

2. Don't Forget Your Thesaurus

Most creative briefs come with a list of brand keywords or core values. This was from a recent brief for a clothing company: "the copy should convey feelings of festivity, elegance, and warmth."

With native ads, the temptation is to copy and paste those value words directly into the headline or description: "5 Festive Outfits That Are As Elegant As They Are Warm" is an easy go-to.

While this approach answers the brief, your headlines can end up weak, boring, and repetitive.

Rather than using brand keywords verbatim, try to come up with some synonyms. Research shows that readers will associate a brand with a particular word even if that word is substituted with a synonym.

TL;DR: Brand synonyms allow for more flexibility and increase the number of versions you can create, which ultimately makes your creative optimization smarter.

3. Put Your Best Face Forward

Facial expressions are emotionally contagious. We're more likely to think happy, positive thoughts after seeing a smiling face than a frowning one. This emotional contagion has a biological basis. As humans we're wired to respond to faces. There's even a special section in our brains that specializes just in facial recognition.

What does this mean for content marketers? When selecting thumbnails, the facial expression should align with the emotion you want to telegraph to the reader. If you're promoting a yoga studio, pick an image of somebody smiling contentedly in Warrior I, not grimacing in Downward Dog.

Some other things to keep in mind: use images where the face is head-on.

Finally, make sure it's clear which emotion the face is expressing. Ambiguous or neutral faces won't have the same effect.

TL;DR: More faces, more engagement.

4. Mirror The Emotion

Include images that trigger a sympathetic response in the reader's mind.

Have you ever watched somebody yawn and immediately felt like yawning yourself, regardless of whether you were tired? (If not, watch this.) This behavior is caused by Mirror Neurons, which fire both when we perform an action (e.g. yawning) and when we observe others performing the same action.

Use the "Mirror Neuron effect" to your advantage by choosing thumbnails that provide the viewer with "cues of experience." Think of those old Folgers commercials: folks in their kitchens, lifting steaming mugs of coffee to their noses, taking deep, satisfying breaths, and going, "Ahhhh!"

When we watch those commercials, we subconsciously imagine ourselves inhaling the aroma of freshly-brewed Folger's coffee.

For your next native ad, try using a thumbnail that has cues of experience to trigger mirror neurons in the reader's mind.

TL;DR: Monkey see, monkey do.

5. Jog The Reader's Memory

Our final tip may be the most important because it helps connect your content to your brand, a process known as neural networking.

Do you recognize these characters?

Chances are you do. In fact, you probably know a lot about them--their names, the commercials they appeared in, even the lines they speak (which, if you share my sense of humor, is probably making you smile right now. "Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it?"). Most importantly you know exactly which brands they represent.

This is the power of brand assets. Including familiar brand assets in your native ads can trigger memories and strengthen brand associations. Celebrities, iconic spokespeople, memorable lines—if you've got them, use them!

Dive deeper into the subconscious with The Science Behind Why Native Ads Work, an interactive experience from Sharethrough and Column Five.