This post was updated on November 18, 2021.
In 2020, the world under pandemic lockdown went truly digital. Online shopping peaked, meetings moved to Zoom, and consumers became more reliant on the internet for just about every daily need.
As “normal” life resumed, and people slowly returned to in-store experiences, something became clear: consumer habits had turned a corner, and it is now more important than ever to engage with customers online as well as offline.
Native advertising has been one of those ways for the past decade, and it continues to prove its efficacy. Thanks to their soft-marketing approach, native ads demonstrate a 5-10X higher CTR than more aggressive ad types. Not surprising then that native ad spend in the US is expected to increase by 21% this year.
A great way to understand native advertising is to see it in action. So we’re continuing our tradition, rounding up some of the best native ad examples we’ve come across this year. Check them out:
Best Native Advertising Examples of 2021
1. A Sign of the Times
This is an awesome example of native content at its most sophisticated. Featured on CNN in its “Better Tech for All” feature, Samsung is using native to promote the “A Sign of the Times” campaign about its new accessible TV screens and “Screens for All” corporate vision. Once the viewer lands on the native content page, they are served a long-form article about the story of David Cowan, a sign language specialist, his personal journey as struggles with his identity as a deaf person, and his work in ASL and the role tech can play. But this is not your regular scrolling article. It’s filled with video, audio, clickable links more, showing how native content can be completely captivating and fully accessible, and the ideal medium for true storytelling.
2. Winter Products
To succeed at native advertising, you’ve got to be creative. But there’s a science behind it as well. That is evident in the Outbrain native campaign run by the leading tire brand, Michelin, which was mapped out with very clear goals in mind – generating website views longer than 30 seconds, and a maximum cost per visitor of 1.5 euro. This was part of a larger goal to drive interested readers to content about Michelin tire products relevant to them, and to direct them to the nearest retailer. The result? Outstanding! Outbrain leveraged its Conversion Bid Strategy tool to automate bids according to the pre-defined goals, and the native ads outperformed comparable social media campaigns. This is a great reason to consider repurposing social media ads for native; why not give it a go?
3. NSW Central Coast’s Most Scenic Picnic Spots
Love Central Coast
If you thought Carousel ads were only on social media, then you’d be wrong. In recent years, great strides have been made in the range of ad formats supported by native networks, and Carousel is one of them. Carousel ads are very effective for brands to tell a story, showcase different aspects of a brand or product, or promote several related products or topics. Users can scroll horizontally through the carousel, and become immersed in the story, making for a very powerful user experience. We love this example by Australian tourism company Love Central Coast, who used the Outbrain Carousel ad experience to showcase the most scenic picnic spots on the New South Wales Central Coast. Watch the experience below, and see for yourself how the Carousel leads the user to the relevant content page via an interesting, visual and content-rich ad.
4. Love Letters from Britain
The pandemic has been tough on the luxury goods market, so it is heartening to see Walpole, the official body for the UK luxury goods sector, promoting a beautifully crafted native campaign to drive awareness and engagement for luxury goods brands. Featured on BBC.com’s “StoryWorks” special feature, the “Love Letters from Britain” campaign showcases 9 inspiring video stories about luxury brands, from whiskey to fragrances, fashion, and cars. It’s a good example of the power of native advertising together with targeted video content that tells a powerful and interesting story, and also a testament to the way that native can be used as a top-funnel strategy to build brand awareness, rather than just a bottom-funnel conversion strategy.
5. Islands of Adventure
Philippines Tourism Ministry
We are living in a visual world, and images are an incredibly important part of native advertising. So much so, that it is a true pleasure to see when a brand does it right. In the travel vertical, images are key to creating atmosphere and immersing users in the native content, and the Philippines Tourism Ministry is totally on the right track, in our opinion. Once again, BBC.com features a StoryWorks campaign that provides just the right amount of copy to read, set against stunning images of the “Islands of adventure” they are promoting. The layout and user experience is designed to make scrolling feel like a leisurely walk on a tropical beach. The native content leads directly to the brand’s website where “More fun awaits”, with information about thousands of islands in the Philippines that is relevant and engaging for interested readers.
6. Covid-19: History of infectious diseases and vaccines
The pandemic is a heavy subject. But it’s also one that has preoccupied the interest of web users, globally. No one was left untouched, but for vaccine developer Novavax, it was a matter of finding a way to broach the subject, but in an informative, engaging and snackable way. We think they did very well with native content promoted on The Guardian website. Part of the Guardian Labs native advertising feature, the “From mumps to Covid-19: A brief history of infectious diseases and vaccines” campaign includes a richly informative, eye-catching, and interactive historical timeline. Sure, the subject matter is intense, but it just goes to show how native campaigns can be crafted to suit all types of topics, consumer interests and even hot-button social issues, in a unique and compelling way.
7. Black Friday Deals
Together with images, native ad headlines are absolutely critical to getting clicks that lead to conversion. We loved this native ad copy, promoting an article of Black Friday shopping deals on The Inventory. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, in November 2021, the world faced a shipping crisis. Supply chains are affected with store shelves empty in some parts of the US and elsewhere. Rumors abound that consumers might not be able to rely on retailers to deliver their holiday gifts on time, and people spurred up for early shopping – and that’s even before the Black Friday frenzy gets started! This native ad is a perfect example of snappy, timely copy that hits the precisely correct tone of the consumer mood: “Show the supply chain who’s boss”. The ad featured The Takeout food and pop culture website, in an article about Best Halloween Candies of 2021, targeting consumers who are searching for Halloween tips and deals. Awesome targeting, awesome ad copy – what more could you ask for in native advertising?
Best Native Ads 2019
No Need to Fly?
This ingenious travel campaign, promoted via paid ads on Facebook, takes native advertising to the next level, and got the advertiser a 24% boost in revenue. German Rail targeted potential customers with personalized ads showing how local destinations in Germany looked similar or even identical to exotic locations around the world. The images of the German and international locations were placed side by side, together with the travel cost for each, demonstrating how much cheaper it is to visit the German location by German Rail rather than flying to the international lookalike! All summed up with the campaign slogan: “No Need to Fly?” The campaign had incredible visuals, a smart premise, advanced personalization and targeting. No wonder it performed so well…
Home Depot – Apartment Therapy
This sponsored campaign by Home Depot, featured on the home design website Apartment Therapy, is just about the most fun you can have with native ads. It takes a cute visual of a home, and showcases videos and links to recommended products at Home Depot for each room of the house. This native ad example uses interactivity to turn home upgrade and Home Depot shopping into a fun, engaging experience.
Is there any ad more ‘native’ than turning a product into a real life 3D hotel? Welcome to Hotel Nutella! The world’s favorite chocolate spread is opening a pop-up hotel complete with Nutella-inspired construction and interior design, and celebrity chefs cooking Nutella-infused meals for guests. The catch? The hotel will be open for one weekend only, and you have to enter a competition to have a chance at becoming a guest. Contestants must produce a 60-second original video showing how Nutella makes their morning special. What a great use of user-generated content. Plus, a chocolate hotel is the fantasy of many a consumer, so the campaign generated loads of earned media to help promote the competition and lead customers to the dedicated landing page.
A key part of native advertising is creating great content. That’s what keeps a brand relevant and interesting to its customers. Well, what could be better than Adidas partnering with the ISS (International Space Station) US National Lab to research and test products in microgravity. For example, Adidas sent soccer balls to the space station to test their behavior, such as spinning, in weightless environments. Another plan is to test improvements in footwear materials and design in space. This multi-year partnership will no doubt drive incredible research and never-before-uncovered knowledge. And it will also take the Adidas brand name to the stratosphere with native content like this video:
A New Way to See
The beauty of native advertising is the way the ad fits in seamlessly to the page on which it appears, so it doesn’t seem like an ad. The best native ads do this, but they also stand out at the same time. Brilliant is a learning platform with a mission to inspire people to achieve their dreams in the STEM fields. Their native ads campaign, which appeared in the Guardian among other places, featured eye-catching math riddles with colorful moving images that were too tempting not to click.
When a chain store recruits leading brands to drive social change, native is the way to do it. CVS Pharmacy set a goal to reach full beauty transparency by the end of 2020, meaning all in store graphics will be natural, non-Photoshopped imagery, or marked to indicate that the image is airbrushed and not authentic. Good native advertising goes way beyond sponsored ads on websites. It is an entirely different approach to advertising that speaks to the consumer with content that matters to them. The instore campaign by CVS Pharmacy does just that, plus provides ample room to promote the campaign natively, with discount offers, charity contributions, and user-generated content like this Instagram post:
When a series as beloved as Game of Thrones comes to an end, brands must find ways to leverage the worldwide buzz and become part of the conversation. Oreo did it this year in style, with the recreation of the famous Game of Thrones opening credits using 2,750 cookies. This is the essence of native advertising – an ad for a product that is less about the product itself, and more about bringing relevance and entertainment to the audience. And of course, it’s all about targeting the right people – Oreo increased its targeting by 20% towards males for the GOT campaign.
Best Native Ads: 2018
Taking the Dragon Challenge
We love Dragon Challenge native campaign by Land Rover, as it combines the best of everything in advertising – a great story, fabulous cinematography, and loads of suspense.
The ad shows the first ever attempt to scale the 999 stairs to Heaven’s Gate in China by car. This was accomplished by a professional Formula One driver in a specially fitted Range Rover SUV, featured in a nail-biting video by Land Rover.
This is not just an ad campaign; it’s a mini adventure movie. Promoted on social media, it uses a storytelling approach to broadcast the values of the Land Rover brand (excellence, daring, success), for an unforgettable native experience.
Laurel or Yanny?
Every year has at least one viral meme, and 2018 was no different. Remember the great “Laurel or Yanny” dispute, which kept the whole internet busy for a few days? VentureBeat chose to leverage the meme to promote its Transform conference on analytics and artificial intelligence.
How? The tech website used AI to test whether it was really “Laurel” or “Yanny”, and then promoted an article on how they did it. (Spoiler: Even AI is not really sure…)
The article included a CTA to register for the Transform conference, with a 30% discount promotion. This campaign shows the best of two worlds – viral meme and native ad – coming together to drive results.
Hyperloop Competition by SpaceX
Here’s a native ad that has it all. A great human story, futuristic hi-tech, and Elon Musk, all combined in a sleek, watchable video.
The ad was produced by Altran Engineering, supporters of a group of students competing in the 2018 Hyperloop Pod Competition run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
The video, “Hyperloop: designing the future of transport?”, follows the story of the students as they race to design the fastest ever pod that will change the future of transportation.
Promoted in the Industrial Tech section of the Financial Times, it’s a fun and inspiring tale of “Can they?” or “Can’t they”?
The Rise of the Superhuman
Native advertising works by providing relevant, interesting content for the reader, rather than pushing a particular product. It’s the difference between the hard sell, and the extremely soft sell.
Mercedes does it beautifully with a native campaign called “The rise of the superhuman”, which presents different technologies that are turning us ordinary folk into “superhumans”, like virtual reality and robotic suits.
This ties in seamlessly with the Intelligent Drive system, a new feature in the Mercedes E-class vehicle. Clean, smooth and cutting edge – these are the brand qualities of Mercedes, promoted so well by this native ad. Bravo!
Know Your “Girls” – Breast Cancer Awareness
Susan G Komen & Ad Council
When a great native ad is used for a great cause, it’s even better! Check out this campaign to promote breast cancer awareness and breast health among African American women in the US.
It’s called “Know Your Girls”, and it has a cheeky, friendly approach to appeal to the target audience via native ads on AOL.
Click on the ad, and you are taken to an informative, user-friendly website featuring health advice and information, personal stories and a host of resources about breast screening, risk factors and more.
It’s a perfect example of what happens when an important social issue meets native advertising best practices.
The Green River Project
The beauty of native content is that you can include just about everything, as long as it supports and enhances the story.
This example, by Eni, the oil and energy conglomerate, uses so many different types of engaging content – images, video, text, timelines, maps, audio, personal stories and graphics – all set in an inspiring storytelling format.
Promoted via native ads on CNN.com, the campaign focuses on a development program for farming and livestock in the Niger Delta, run by the Eni company. Called the Green River Project, it aims to enhance the livelihood of local communities.
The native content is expertly designed with a look and feel more suited to an environmental agency. It’s hard to tell that the campaign, in fact, belongs to an oil company.
This campaign is a good example of how powerful native can be when it comes to brand building and perception.
“The Great Rewrite” – Rethinking Innovation
If you want to know what great native content looks like, look no further than KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, and “The Great Rewrite” campaign, promoted on Forbes’ BrandVoice platform.
In the campaign, KPMG explores the question of how our world is being “rewritten” in a post-innovation age. The look and feel of the campaign is ultra modern, with a rich user experience loaded with content, including featured articles, videos and first-person perspectives.
Much like its title, this campaign is rewriting the native concept, taking the content experience to a whole new level of sophistication.
Best Native Ads: 2017
Match Your Music to Stranger Things Characters
Nielsen reported a whopping 15.8 million Americans had watched the first episode of Stranger Things by the third day of its release. There’s no denying the series has garnered an almost cult-like fan following.
Spotify was quick to capitalize on its recent release, matching users of its platform to characters on the show, based on their listening habits. Even guests of the platform can select five jams to submit for their results.
When two powerhouse content creators combine, amiright?
Serena Williams’ Career Journey
Gatorade served up the most memorable gamification experience of the year paying homage to one of the most talented athletes of our time, Serena Williams.
Users can attempt to win the match point of every one of her 22 major victories with the simple click of their mouse — no download necessary and without a glitch.
The game resembled some of Nintendo’s earliest crowd pleasers. This one is definitely in the running for the gold in “Best use of native advertising.”
Remembering Ellis Island
In partnership with The New York Times, Airbnb reflects on the history of travel and hospitality. The interactive experience goes back in time to reference New York’s own Ellis Island. The heart-warming and educational story details what it was like to migrate to America back in the day.
Navigate through four chapters (some with sound effects) for personal stories from Airbnb hosts, historical facts, old photos, and documents for a journey back in time.
Then, book your next great adventure.
Not what you would expect from a legacy car brand on game day… this past Super Bowl, Audi used its 60-second ad spot to advocate for pay equality, a social issue far removed from our rearview mirrors.
Despite the brand’s association with older, more traditional consumers, Audi has been reporting younger demographics since back in 2014. About 50 percent of its sales are to Gen X and Gen Y consumers.
Audi is clearly looking toward the future. And these days, a little bit of activism, especially during game time, can make a big difference among its next generation of buyers.
Getting Personal with Marcus
The finance sector has experienced massive shifts in consumer behavior with the emergence of new technology like mobile apps. And like most industries, if brands don’t bend to the consumer’s needs, they will seek greener pastures.
That’s why one of the oldest institutions, Goldman Sachs, has been working to revamp its image with the introduction of its new online lending company, Marcus.
A quick visit to Marcus.com combines the engaging elements of an infographic with interactive elements. There’s even a powerful tool in the form of a loan calculator.
While the financial services industry may never viewed as “sexy,” Goldman Sachs certainly makes up for it with utility.
Mosaic Maker Gets Personal
Lego enthusiasts, much like the parts in their kits, come in various shapes and sizes — whether it is a parent buying their toddler beloved building blocks or an adult looking for the next intricate model to carefully piece together.
In an effort to represent its diverse set of superfans, the toy maker created an instant photo booth and Lego vending machine within its London location for visitors to recreate their own headshot of out bricks.
Just think of all the user-generated content!
Best Native Ads: 2016
Kids’ Imaginations’ Rules
Homegate & 20 Minuten
Who wouldn’t want a black hole in their house? Or to live in a giant strawberry? And don’t tell Princess Llaria she can’t have smiling shrubbery and transforming stars in her castle. Swiss real estate company Homegate pulled off the ultra meta campaign by integrating its brand into the vibrant imaginations of children using Oculus Rift technology. To create native advertising for Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten, Homegate – in conjunction with the Bandara agency and film production company Frame Engine – asked children to draw their dream houses. The three most creative renderings were brought to life in virtual reality. The expression on the kids’ faces are priceless, but they’ll probably never be satisfied with having their drawings taped to the refrigerator door again.
“The Message” Podcast
Here at Outbrain, we love our podcasts, so no surprise that this Webby-winner would also be one of our top picks. The 8-part series was co-produced by GE (with their agency BBDO) who also worked in collaboration with Panoply Media (Slate’s podcast network). The #1 podcast on iTunes ended up being a hit, garnering a million-plus listeners. GE came up with the original concept that blends sci-fi and real life, following the main protagonist as she attempts to decode a 70-year-old message from outer space in her job at an encryption think tank. Additional online content allows viewers to dig deeper into the show. This was a new medium for GE and following the success of MailChimp’s sponsorship of “Serial,” it looks like the podcast is becoming another go-to touchpoint for brands to reach their audiences.
SXSW Comedy Bang Bang Podcast
“Don’t like my underwear? Why don’t you choke on it.” Mack Weldon, the New York-based men’s underwear brand, visited the Comedy Bang Bang Podcast this year in SXSW, and pulled off an unlikely live native advertising campaign offering genuine hilarity that resonated throughout communal online spaces like Reddit. As a result, Mack Weldon’s sales doubled. In the podcast, comedian Paul F. Tompkins plays a microbe-loathing Mack Weldon executive who, along with the podcast’s hosts, critiques the physique, mannerisms – and, yes, the Mack Weldon underwear, T-shirt, and socks – being showcased by a male model. Though there was a clear native advertising strategy behind this campaign, Mack Weldon scored big because it had faith in the talent of the participants and the scary but undeniable power of spontaneity to create unparalleled branded moments.
Online Scavenger Hunt
Bacardi & Goldroom
Exclusivity has deep roots in aspirational advertising, but Bacardi’s 2016 collaboration with BBDO and electronic music artist Goldroom, aka Josh Legg, infused the concept with a native twist by integrating the VIP treatment into the digital experience. To locate and claim 10 pairs of free tickets on Goldroom’s website, fans have to activate Google Chrome’s incognito mode – an option most use when they want their browsing histories to disappear – which launches a special landing page promoting a unique scavenger hunt. Fans who hack through the online clues receive backstage concert tickets and access to special tracks and an exclusive clip of Goldroom’s latest video.
New York Lottery
Though the year 2016 may forever be known as the year that our favorite artists, comics, and musicians passed away, it began as the year of the largest Powerball jackpot in U.S. history. To mark the occasion, the New York Lottery teamed up with McCann to give New Yorkers a continuous 12-hour live drum performance to celebrate their purchases of Powerball tickets. A simple idea, but fun and effective and perfectly suited – considering the cultural context and auditory and visual payoff of a 35-second video – for a YouTube campaign. For anyone who ever dreamed of being rich enough to be followed or preceded by a marching band as they went through their day, this – unless they actually won the lottery – was as close as they’d ever get.
That’s all, folks
Once again, it’s been a great year for native advertising. 2019 was the year that native video really started to flex its muscles. Also this year, we’ve started to see a meteoric rise in programmatic native advertising.
Even so, there’s one thing at the center of every great native ad – a great story. The examples above are just a taste of the native ads we enjoyed in the past few years. What will the new year bring for native advertising? Stay tuned!
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