From buzzword to bloodsport: native advertising gets competitive with new leaderboard

By Erin Griffith , written on February 27, 2013

From The News Desk

Regardless of your definition of the category or whether you believe it has staying power, native advertising is as hot a topic as they come in the adtech world. It's comparable to flash sales in 2009, daily deals in 2010, influencer marketing in 2011, or ambient social networking in 2012. As I wrote last year, the ad world is hoping native ads will save us all. Maybe. Solidifying the trend, the topic has been upgraded from a single panel at adtech conferences to a full day of expert pontificating, courtesy of the Native Ads conference thrown by Sharethrough. (I'll be moderating a startup-focused panel at it this afternoon).

In conjunction with the event, Sharethrough has built a leaderboard which ranks native ad campaigns and platforms by performance, based on data from SimpleReach. This essentially turns a burgeoning industry built around a Fred Wilson-coined buzzword into a full-on competition. Each time I so much as write a story that includes the word "native" in it, I get 15 "us too!" emails from startups hawking their own native products. Just note the comments section on any story on native. Everyone wants to be aligned with the term, even though, from what I can tell, advertisers are still in the experimental phase. I suppose the thinking is, if they're associated with the term early on in the way that, say, Buddy Media was with social marketing, they'll become the default go-to place for such transactions as the category grows.

Fair enough, but it's almost too late for that, too. The level of noise around native advertising is deafening.

But now, whenever I get those emails, and when advertisers are considering where to bring their sponsored posts, they can look at past performance of campaigns from the likes of Target, Grey Goose and IHOP, run on platforms like Gawker, Slate, Trulia and Apartment Therapy. Quickly seeing which platforms are offering the biggest audience is helpful since scale is the native ad's achilles heel.

In some ways the leaderboard reminds me of social media agency Dachis Group's Social Business Index, which measures companies by their performance on social media outlets. The benchmarking tools and data are useful to journalists, yes, but more importantly provide transparency and benchmarking on the social media performance to the world's businesses.

So which platform company is the native-est? Buzzfeed, of course. As of last night, Buzzfeed's sponsored posts dominated nine of the top ten pieces of native advertising. Strangely most of the site's high-ranking posts were from last October. Of the 16 publications listed, the Atlantic and Mashable are the only other two platforms to rank in the top 25.

It's a bit strange that this leaderboard only defines native advertising as sponsored content within a media outlet's news feed. That means it doesn't take into account the native ads on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, StumbleUpon, or Tumblr. It ranks the native ads based social actions, which ignores whether those impressions actually converted into leads. But at least it helps an advertiser narrow if they want to reach, say, a Pinterest audience as opposed to a Twitter audience. Buzzfeed dominates most social networks, but Mashable and Fast Company fared better on LinkedIn, for example.

It's a start to ranking a new kind of ad product that's opaque to buy into. Check it out.