What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is all the rage in the world of marketing and advertising. You see it everywhere. John Oliver has even devoted time to native advertising on his show Last Week Tonight. (You can watch it here, but be aware of NSFW language.)
Unfortunately, most marketers are less than informed when it comes to what actually classifies as native advertising. Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising Report even found:

  • 49% of marketers don’t know what native advertising is.
  • Only 3% of marketers surveyed were “very knowledgeable” about native advertising.
  • 25% of marketers surveyed “couldn’t care less” about native advertising.
  • Only 9% of companies have a native advertising budget.

Given the lack of awareness and understanding, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about what exactly qualifies as native advertising. And how effective it can be.
Related Blog: 3 Ways to Put a New Spin on Old School Marketing Channels
P.S. Just so you’re aware, many of our definitions and examples come from the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) task force on native advertising. They have set relatively clear definitions of what qualifies as native advertising and the types of common ad units.


Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.[/box]

What is form and function?

Form means that native ads match the visual design of the platform they live on. They look and feel like natural content, i.e. an ad on Equipment World’s website.
Function means that native ads behave consistently with the native user experience. They function similar to the platform’s natural content, i.e. like a news story on CCJ’s website.
[hr style=”3″ margin=”40px 0px 40px 0px”]

How native works

The idea is that a native ad looks more like a piece of content that a user is already seeing on a media site. This improves the clickability of the ad and provides more value to the prospect or customer.

Here’s an example of a native ad on Equipment World:

[one_half]Native Ad Example on Equipment World's Website[/one_half]

Native Ad Placement:

As you can see, the sponsored ad carries a clear designation of sponsored content. But it also looks identical to the articles that appear above it in the Equipment World news stream.[/one_half_last]
This is the native ad's content. It has a clear "presented by" designation and is surrounded by the sponsor's banners.[/one_half]

Native Ad Content:

When you click the native ad, you are redirected to a page that lives on the Equipment World site. In this case, the article is positive promotional content for Eaton transmissions centered around trucks hauling heavy construction equipment.
It has a clear “presented by” designation and is surrounded by the sponsor’s banners.[/one_half_last]

The content is written in a similar editorial style as other news content on the site.

[hr style=”3″ margin=”40px 0px 40px 0px”]

Ad Formats

The IAB lists 6 different core ad units/formats that are most commonly deployed to achieve native objectives. These are not the only ways that native advertising objectives can be achieved, but they do provide a good description to help you understand native.
Related Blog: Print Does Have a Place in WOM Marketing
[hr style=”3″ margin=”40px 0px 40px 0px”]

The 4 formats you need to know are:


1. In-Feed Ads

These are native ads which show up in the publisher’s normal content well. It’s in story form and match the surrounding stories, page links, and has been sold with a guaranteed placement. This classification shows up on sites like Equipment World, CCJ, Forbes, Facebook, and Twitter.

2. Recommendation Widgets

These ads show up as “related posts” or “sponsored posts” at the end of stories on sites such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. These services include Outbrain, Taboola, and Gravity.

3. Promoted Listings

These ads are found on sites that do not have a traditional editorial content well. They fit into the browsing experience and are presented to look identical to products or services offered. These show up on sites like Amazon and Etsy.

4. Custom

These are the ads that don’t quite fit into the other ad formats. Often, these are too platform-specific to warrant their own category. Think of sponsored playlists on Spotify and Pandora.
Native advertising is tricky, and there still aren’t clear, common definitions for what qualifies as a native ad. This can make it difficult for marketers to invest their limited budgets in an untested marketing method.
But then again, I’m sure that’s what they said about digital marketing in the ‘90s.
[acf field=”cta_2″ post_id=”option”]