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How Programmatic Native Has Performed So Far in 2020

How Programmatic Native Has Performed So Far in 2020

In March and April, advertisers scrambled to find ways to connect with their audiences.

As brands went back to the drawing board to rearrange budgets and campaigns, they were forced to adapt their media buying and to try new ad formats. 

How did the uncertainty of 2020 impact programmatic native advertising?

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Initial Predictions for Programmatic Native Vs. Reality

Back in March, when the pandemic started, the ad industry took a major hit as most brands hesitated, unsure of the best way forward in what most agreed were “unprecedented times.”

While people turned to online news media more than ever, ad spend on news sites didn’t show it. In the first three weeks of March, over two million ads were blocked from appearing on four major news networks. Programmatic became risky as advertisers worried that their brand would take a hit if their ads appeared beside COVID‐related content.

“What is clear is that COVID-19-related content is going to be a very significant driver of consumer activity, for potentially a significant period of time,” said Matt McLaughlin, the COO of DoubleVerify, back in March. “Brands should take a very hard look at supporting those publications producing legitimate information and analyzing whether consumers will really associate the brand with the content when it is so prevalent.”

Unlike ordinary circumstances, brands would have to become comfortable advertising next to negative news.

By August, most marketers expected their spend on programmatic to increase, but only slightly. Programmatic advertisers were back in the game. 

Programmatic Native Sees Changes In Content Type

Native programmatic can be powerful because it targets the right audience with an uninterrupted user experience. With people spending more time online, native presented a great opportunity for advertisers to build awareness and educate their audiences.

The Business Journals reported that clients began creating different types of branded content during the pandemic. Clients put more effort into developing thought leadership and education content. The Business Journals reported that 37% of its readers said in a 2020 survey “that they [were] likely to contact a company after reading its sponsored or thought leadership content.”

While programmatic has always had its benefits, it became an even more logical choice for advertisers who needed flexibility, efficiency, and effectiveness in a time with tighter finances. 

“When faced with sudden and profound changes, you need to be able to adapt your media buying and advertising messages on the fly,” writes Lindsay Wiles of Verizon Media. We’ve seen brands adapt their media favorably towards programmatic—the number of native programmatic advertisers and programmatic spending is up significantly. 

MediaRadar Insights


We analyzed the top 100 advertisers YTD across all media formats and looked at their programmatic spending compared to the same time period last year.


Overall, the number of native programmatic advertisers is up 156% and overall spend is up 93%. We’re seeing medium and small advertisers spend more on programmatic. At the same time, large advertisers are investing in new formats to broaden their reach.

Native Programmatic Ad Spend YTD 2020

The top 100 advertisers increased their native programmatic spending by 10% YoY. 

The largest native programmatic spenders come from tech and financial companies like Verizon, Lending Tree, and USAA. These companies increased their programmatic spending 38% YoY.

One category that has cut programmatic spending this year, from the top 100 advertisers, is retail. The retail category as a whole is down 15% YoY. However, not all retailers are pulling back. Best Buy, Target, Lowe’s and CVS have increased their native advertising spend by an average of 38%. However, 

The top 5 native programmatic advertisers YTD, in no particular order, are:

  • Geico
  • Verizon
  • LendingTree
  • TurboTax
  • Apple

Together, these 5 companies make up 20% of all native programmatic ad spending.

While we don’t know the long-term effects of the pandemic will be on programmatic native, it is clear that this format is faring well during the pandemic and doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

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