You know when you’re reading The Onion and after you’ve read the main headlines and have scrolled through the page, you see a section called “Lesser News From Around the Web” that looks like other news stories but is actually filled with paid ads for the last Puppy Flower bouquet or a pair of hi-top sneakers that you searched for on Amazon?

That, my friend, is called native advertising. Native advertising is getting a ton of hype these days, but the concept is still a little confusing for many content marketers. According to a 2014 report by Copyblogger, 49% of respondents still didn’t know what native advertising was and only 3% felt they were very knowledgeable about it.

Basically, native ads are ads that are created to look exactly like the editorial content of another publication. They don’t disrupt your experience of using a site like pop-ups and banners can and they generally offer something that is relevant to what you’re reading.

Native video ads are a the main focus for brands and marketers right now, as they are the fastest growing digital ad format — digital video ad spend alone has increased by around 40% per year over the past two years. Whether it falls into the roles of CEO, founder responsibilities or is the work of a dedicated marketing team, it’s clear that native advertising needs a little TLC to leverage it So let’s start with a basic rundown of the different types of native advertising and some examples of the type of ads that work best.

Print Ads

Native print ads are slickly made blog posts, infographics or other types of visual ads that, at first glance, look like editorial content. The reader is immediately engaged with the material because it’s pretty, offers interesting information, is funny or all of the above. It doesn’t look like a traditional ad – the brand might be mentioned as an afterthought or not at all but it certainly isn’t featured as the center of the marketing material like it used to be. This Guinness Guide to Oysters is a perfect example of a print ad that interests readers and subsequently promotes a brand.

Sponsored Content

You might be most familiar with sponsored content at this point as it has become so prevalent on the web and appears in many of the most popular social media apps. These are the ads on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and other websites that come up in the same format as the other stuff your friends are posting but have a little (usually very little) callout indicates that it’s sponsored content. It might come in the form of a pretty picture, an article, or some other kind of informational material and it generally won’t include a call-to-action but will have some reference to the company, product or service within the content. Sponsored content often looks something like this Forbes ad.


Native Video

This is the big one. Recode reports that video currently accounts for 78% of all web traffic and that number is expected to keep growing. These are videos that are uploaded to or created on social networks directly and played right there in your feed rather than linking back to another host site, like YouTube. They are often funny, cute or clever, or at least, they try to be.


The Proliferation of Native Video

Facebook and Twitter  both rolled out native video tools in July 2015 and these updates are changing the world of content marketing in a huge way by making video content almost impossible to ignore. Users can shoot and edit video right within the Twitter app or upload videos up to 30 seconds from their camera rolls. Then when users are scrolling through their feeds, they get to click and play the video without disrupting their experience.

Facebook reportedly has over 3 billion video views a day. These natively posted videos are getting much better organic reach than posts that are hosted elsewhere, in part because it’s so easy for viewers to watch them as they are doing their daily scrolling.

Not only that but on Facebook you can see how many times a video has been viewed, just like you can on YouTube. This feature is massively appealing to advertisers because who love getting instant metrics especially concerning the size of their viewing audience. Their algorithm also seems to be shying away from exposing YouTube links or videos from other hosted platforms. Instead, they are shamelessly promoting native content to encourage users to stay within the Facebook site. They also have a leg up on YouTube because of the competitive advantage they have of helping people find videos to watch. Basically, users have a ready-made network of people with like-minded tastes – so what is appealing to their friends is probably appealing to them and FB makes sure to get it at the top of each person’s feed.

What Does it Mean for Brands?

In a word – everything. Video is the fastest growing digital ad format and digital video ad spend has increased by around 40% per year over the past two years. This is significantly changing the way that content marketers have to create and distribute content across these platforms. Facebook and Twitter are just the first of many social networks to cross the line into the publishing world and video is at the core of their transformation. This means that the video space is going to become even more competitive and nuanced and that brands should be poised to understand the technical details of these changes.

Video content started to soar in mid-2014 when one-off campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge gave users a reason to create short, entertaining video clips that friends could easily share and replicate. But then Facebook upped the ante with the auto-play feature that, as you’ve surely noticed, starts playing videos automatically in your news feed while you’re doing your daily (hourly?) scroll. And, as Contently puts it, the message that Facebook is putting out there is hard not to hear: “Use FB’s native video player for posting content or risk being left out in the cold.” To be sure, Twitter, Google, Buzzfeed, and hordes of others are not far behind. Twitter is even finding ways for brands to create videos up to 10 minutes long to upload directly to their Tweet-o-sphere.

It’s important to note that there doesn’t seem to be a monetization plan in progress for these platforms the same way that YouTube stars have long been making money from viral videos. This is tied into the whole idea of whether social networks are turning into publishers or if they will remain content distributors – and the outcome is yet to be seen. As social networks start to grab more of the digital ad spend market, this might shift the paradigm in favor of more platforms taking the standpoint of a publisher.

Getting Native Video Right

Now that we’ve covered all the gossip about what’s to come in the world of native video advertising, let’s talk about some best practices for native video and getting the most out of it.

Use the Best Frame

Most of the time the thing that gets people to click on your video is the frame behind the play button. These preview images have to be pretty cool and relevant to what your content is all about in order to get the best traction for your video. When you’re dealing with autoplay, you want to go the extra mile to make sure the first two to three seconds of your video are your best.

Forget About Volume

Remember that with Twitter and Facebook’s auto-play, there’s a good likelihood that most of your audience is going to be seeing your ad without sound, especially if they’re watching at work or in a crowded elevator. That extra click they have to take to turn the volume on is just too much work for folks who don’t yet have a reason to be interested in what you’re saying. Make your videos interesting even when they are soundless, like this Instagram Beyonce just posted.

Perfect Your Copy

Just because you’re going all out on your video budget doesn’t mean you can forsake copy. Text with your videos should be short and sweet but it can still make a big difference as to whether your video is a hit or not. Veer away from click-bait titles and copy – audiences are getting more and more wary of vague headlines and titles that don’t deliver. Make the intro line you’re using on social platforms enticing without being obscure.

Be Transparent

Your ad doesn’t have to be too ad-like, but trying to hide the fact that it is sponsored content or promoting a brand is kind of skeezy. Audiences don’t like being tricked into thinking they are watching pure entertainment fluff or news when they are actually being spoon-fed product endorsements. Be as transparent as possible – you’ll gain more loyalty and trust that way.

As the relationship between native advertising, publishers, and distributors continues to get more nuanced and complex, more changes are sure to come. For now, it’s important to hop onto the bandwagon of creating native video content to make sure that you maintain a competitive edge on your social platforms. For brands, this new emphasis on native video means shifting more resources toward producing high-quality video content and working with social platforms directly to create a buzz about your business.