And then there’s the second constraint, which Rice mentions: all of that effort is going into reaching a relatively small number of people. This is another way in which native ads are like long copy print ads: they reach a small audience, rather than a mass audience. As a result, any brand wanting to reach a mass market is going to have to use native as just one part of a much bigger strategy, and that in turn is going to keep the native-averse ad agencies in the driver’s seat.

My guess is that BuzzFeed’s investors will do OK for themselves, in the end. But a healthy exit for BuzzFeed is not the same as a genuine disruption of the digital advertising space. Although native ads have the potential to be incredibly disruptive, I’m far from convinced that their larger potential is going to be realized any time soon.


Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at