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No One's Looking at Your Native Ads, Either

Uh oh.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Advertisers love the idea of “native ads” — marketing messages that sort of look like “real” content — because they think that Web surfers who ignore other ads will pay attention to the new format.*

This sounds interesting in theory, but less convincing when you actually look at the stuff native advertisers are creating, which often resembles lousy versions of “real” content — stiffly written advertorials that no one except the person who paid for it would ever willingly look at.

And, sure enough, very few people are looking at this stuff. Or, more precisely: People who look at this stuff can’t wait to stop reading it.

So says Chartbeat, a Web traffic analytics used by lots of big publishers (Re/code has a Chartbeat account, too). Writing for, Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile says that while 71 percent of surfers will stick with a “real” article for more than 15 seconds**, that number drops to 24 percent for native ad stuff.

“What this suggests is that brands are paying for — and publishers are driving traffic to — content that does not capture the attention of its visitors or achieve the goals of its creators,” Haile deadpans.

Uh oh! Haile makes sure to qualify his statement by pointing out people who are doing a good job with native ads (I’m sure that any native ads you see at Re/code will be excellent, too!). But the reason publishers love native ads is that advertisers are willing to pay a premium for them, even as the prices for conventional Web ads keep shrinking.

I’ve always thought that the native ad lifeline was less strong than Web publishers have hoped for, chiefly because they seem impossible to make work at scale. While lots of people will tell you otherwise, it sure seems hard to make a “native” ad for more than one website, because then they’re not really “native,” right?

But if advertisers conclude that Haile is right, then the scale issues won’t matter to advertisers — they’ll just conclude that native ads aren’t worth their time, period. Which will leave Web publishers scrambling for the next big thing.

* Which is really a really old format, but whatever — no time for history when you’re on the bleeding edge, man.

** Yes, that’s right, 15 seconds. That’s a long time on the bleeding edge, man.

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