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What is Native Advertising?

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Native advertising is a term that you’ve probably heard but wasn’t quite sure what it was. After all, advertising is advertising, isn’t it?

I have often said that marketing communication can be confusing. It covers so many different things that it can be hard to keep track of everything let alone keep up with it.

Native advertising falls under paid media because advertising always involves some sort of cost.

With advertising in the title, you feel like you should know what it is but aren’t sure because of that word “native” in front of it.

Never fear. Today we are going to break down what native advertising is and why you should care.

A Definition

As with so many other things in the world of marketing communication, when I went to find a definition for native advertising it was somewhat elusive. Apparently not everybody agrees on what it is.

For our sake, I’m going to say that native advertising is digital ads. Beyond this, it starts getting a little confusing so before we go any further let’s nail down a definition.

The Native Advertising Institute defines it as:

“Paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.”

Clear as mud? I thought as much. Let’s take a step back.

The Wide World of Digital Advertising

You are no doubt aware of display ads. They have been around as long as the internet itself. You see them as banner ads and pop-ads. It seems like they are inescapable.

The problem with display ads is that we have learned to ignore them. We get rid of pop-ups like we are swatting flies. We don’t pay attention to headings and the sides of the page because we know that’s where the display ads live.

There are other types of digital ads as well. When you search on Google, if you’ve hit the right term, ads will precede the search results. Below are some ads that I encountered when searching on the word pizza.

Example of an ad on Google

These are really simple ads. They give some basic information in the hopes that when you search for pizza you will see the ad and click on them.

Digital ads have also become pervasive in our social media feeds. Even videos on Facebook aren’t spared as ads will cut into our video experience at seemingly random times.

Below is an ad that was in my Facebook feed from Albertsons.

Facebook ad example

This ad is simple. You know what you are getting. All you have to do is click on the button and go shopping.

Next is an ad from my Twitter feed that I first saw a couple of days ago.

Twitter Ad Example

I was skimming through my Twitter feed and to be honest, I thought it was a post from somebody I was following. It wasn’t until later when I went back looking for examples that I realized that this was an ad. We’ll come back to that later.

YouTube also has ads. Some are bumper ads that play at the beginning of the video and others, like on Facebook, will cut into the video at random times. There are also pop-up ads that come up at specific times.

The nice thing about digital ads, regardless of how they are used, is that they are measurable. This makes them more valuable than a traditional add on TV, radio, or in print. Having data is always better than guessing.

Native Advertising

Let’s stop and look where we are at. We have a definition of native advertising and we know that it is a form of digital ads.

Let’s revisit our definition for a moment. Native advertising is a form of paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.

Let’s clarify. Native ads have the look and feel of the content around them. In other words, they don’t stick out as ads. They look more like the other content on the page. 

I have no doubt you have seen native advertising but let’s look at some examples. Here’s an example from CNN:

Native advertising on CNN

Its been marked as paid content to distinguish it from CNN’s own stories but they look like headlines. They don’t look like ads, they look like content. The only reason we know they are ads is because they are marked.

Here’s another example from Fox News:

Native advertising on Fox News

Instead of marking them as paid content as CNN did, Fox News marks it as sponsored stories. Again, it looks like headlines, not ads.

In both these examples, the native advertising was placed through third parties. Outbrain on CNN and Taboola on Fox News.

Native Advertising in Social Media

Above we saw a couple of examples where native advertising was placed on websites. This is only one example of native advertising. There are other ways to use it.

Let’s go back to the Twitter ad from earlier. I told you that at first sight, I didn’t recognize it as an ad. I thought it was somebody I was following. At the time I originally saw it I remember thinking, “I’m going to come back and check this out later.”

I didn’t click on the ad to see what was on the other side but I think there was probably something that looked like a blog post. This Twitter ad is an example of native advertising. It has the look and feel of the content around it.

This is where it can be confusing. Are all social media ads native advertising? No. The Facebook example certainly wasn’t but social ads can be native advertising. Whether it is or isn’t is up to you.

Native Advertising Can Be Dynamic

Native advertising is a fusion of advertising and content. This is why it is sometimes mistaken as content marketing. When content is used, native advertising becomes more dynamic than other ads.

The Native Advertising Institute is a great resource. It has some great examples of native advertising that show that the only limits are your imagination (and your budget).

I’m going to share a couple of examples it highlighted on its site. These ads show the power of native advertising.

The first is an ad from HBO for its show, Chernobyl. It’s an ad that is on The New Yorker‘s titled, Chernobyl. The Human Cost of Misinformation: How Silence and Lies Exacerbated the 1986 Chernobyl Disaster.

Chernobyl on HBO

In one aspect it looks like content. It reads like an article albeit with some promotional content sprinkled in. They infused it with pictures from the show and include a trailer.

Our second example is from Heineken. This is a video featuring two actors from the television show The Office. This ad is promoting a non-alcohol version of Heineken beer and its title is: Bring Your Beer to Work Day.

Heineken: Bring Your Beer to Work Day

They get the point across in a fun way. It’s not salesy. The product isn’t being pushed on us. The ad focuses on being entertaining and it succeeds.

Why Should You Use Native Advertising?

You know what native advertising is and we have talked about different ways to use it but should you? It all comes down to results. It doesn’t matter how dynamic or entertaining the ad is if it doesn’t produce results.

Native advertising is more work so why should you use it instead of a display ad?

Let’s look at the numbers. Studies have shown that people are 52% more likely to look at native advertising than banner ads. It produces up to 93% more clicks. Finally, purchase intent is 53% higher for those who click on native ads.

Final Thoughts

Native advertising weaves content into an ad. People click on the ad and instead of getting a hard sell they get something that looks more like the content that is on your website. The numbers above show that native advertising works. So what are you waiting for?

Tell me what you think in the comments.


Shane Carpenter
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