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Native ads are one of the most buzzed about items in the digital marketing space today. Hey, maybe even the Internet, given John Oliver destroyed them a few weeks ago. But with major brands like Chevron, Target, Microsoft and many more using them, could they help you grow your own brand? And can they grow sales?

The answer, as an MBA may say is “it depends.” Native ads are done for the sake of doing a native ad, and without a goal of amplifying owned content, is like the tree falling the woods. Target’s 15 Reasons Why Cats are the Most Fearless Creatures is great to engage a Buzzfeed audience used to engaging with cat GIF’s, but are they bringing the reader back to further Target generated content on pets and taking care of your pet?

That’s how native ads can be an amplifier for inbound marketing and growth marketing strategies. Bringing the reader back to content, rather than bringing the reader back to your product.

According to a 2014 CopyBlogger survey of brands and publishers, three out of four publishers offer some form of native advertising on their sites. In addition, 90% of publishers either have or plan to launch native advertising campaigns. On the brand side, more than 40% have plans to launch native ad campaigns or platforms. In short, they’re not going away anytime soon. The trick is maximizing views and engagement with them at the top of the funnel so enough readers are driven back to owned brand content.

Buzzfeed is a leader in understanding how important distribution is to the content marketing narrative. In fact, it has a team dedicated to buying social ads to drive traffic to native ads. Although Buzzfeed notes that they don’t do this to simply hit traffic goals to native ad pieces, the combination of owned, earned and paid is the combination that fuels traffic.

Another important factor in determining if a native ad campaign will be successful in actual driving growth is the synergies between the brand, publisher, and audience. The first synergy to check-off if you’re a credible brand is to ensure you’re running your campaign on a credible publisher site. A recent study found that readers of native ads on credible news sites (like the New York Times, etc.) reacted favorably to them 88% of the time. Compare that with native ads on less credible sites, which readers only reacted favorably to 66% of the time. Of course, this assumes your brand has a credible perception. Scientology’s native ad didn’t go over well with the Atlantic readership and was eventually pulled because of a perceived lack of credibility.

While questions around what type of growth native ads can drive will continue as we sort through the Wild West period of the market, the winning campaigns will approach native ads like other content marketing or PR efforts – as an editor, not a marketer.

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