“Native advertising? What’s that?”

If you’re somewhat puzzled about what this marketing strategy entails based on its name alone, you’re in good company. In one survey, 73% of respondents stated that they either did not know what native advertising was, or were “hardly familiar” with it. Yet consumers view native ads 53% more frequently than display ads, and spending on native ads reached US$32.9 billion in 2018—a staggering 58% of the online display ad market.

With such a significant portion of the online consumer base up for grabs, it’s a good idea to hop on the bandwagon of native advertising as soon as you can. But how exactly does it work, and what makes it different from other marketing strategies?

What is native advertising?

Native advertising is a marketing strategy in which advertisers use paid media whose form and function matches the platform on which it appears. Put simply, they’re ads that are engineered not to look like ads. Rather, they’re specially formatted to look like the surrounding media formats.

Caption: Display ad with native elements on a recipe website


How does native advertising work?

Unlike traditional advertising, you don’t necessarily have to write copy for native ads yourself. In many cases, businesses can pay publishers to create content on their behalf, and link it to a particular product, service or cause.

One way to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to native advertising is to opt for programmatic native advertising. This is a scheme that allows you to target specific consumers using tailored ads in real time. When a consumer visits a website (or any platform that supports native ads), the supply side platform (SSP) requests bids from advertisers to fill the space. Using a process called real-time bidding (RTB), the demand side platform (DSP) bids on behalf of the advertiser and provides metadata about the ad, including the headline, thumbnail and description text. The SSP chooses one bid and configures the winning ad to fit into the template of the website.

Programmatic native advertising enables businesses to increase their return on investment (ROI) by serving the most relevant ads to a targeted user or group of users. This increases the likelihood of engagement and later conversion. (Best of all, the process takes less than a second to complete.)


What types of native ads are there?

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) identifies six distinct types of native advertising, some of which cross over into other forms of marketing. These include:

In-Feed Units

One of the most common types of native ads, in-feed units are found on a variety of websites all over the Internet. They usually take the form of sponsored posts or articles (sometimes known as advertorials) that appear on publishers’ websites or social media feeds alongside genuine content. They can be identified by markers or tags reading “Sponsored” or “Paid Content”.

Caption: Overview of in-feed units
Source: IAB

Paid Search Units

Ads produced under search engine marketing can also be considered native advertising, as they are usually made to resemble organic search results. However, they are identifiable by the “Ad” marker found on the left-hand side.

Caption: Paid search units on a Google search results page Source: WSI-eMarketing


Recommendation Widgets

These native ads are most often found on publishers’ websites. When you open one of the articles on the site, you’ll often see a series of recommended articles (located to the side or at the end) that includes sponsored content.

Caption: Notice that the recommendation widget blends in much better with the rest of the content than the display ad on the right Source: LinkedIn


These can be found on online shopping sites, and are often shown alongside relevant results for your query. They are made to look just like the other non-sponsored listings, but are actually paid for by advertisers.

Caption: Promoted listings on Amazon Source: Sellbrite

Surprisingly enough, traditional banner and display ads may also qualify as native ads—provided the products and services they promote are contextually relevant to the website they’re appearing on. While they don’t look like the rest of the content on the page, they can still be relevant to the audience’s interests and needs.

Caption: Display ad with native elements on a recipe website Source: LinkedIn


Given the dynamic nature of the Internet and the number of endlessly creative ways to serve ads, it is inevitable that some native ads will fall outside the specifications of the previous 5 formats. Custom native ads include ads that are clearly intended to be native in nature, but do not fit the criteria already listed. This gives rise to a wide variety of ads, some of which share the characteristics of the 5 defined formats.


What platforms support native advertising?

Native advertising can be carried out on almost every online platform, including websites, blogs and social media. The question of which channel to use depends on the chosen format of your native ad, as well as the capabilities and support needed. For example, you might choose to sponsor a post titled “Top 5 Wedding Dress Styles in 2019” on a website about wedding preparations.


How is native advertising different from other advertising strategies?

Consumers tend to be ambivalent towards (or even sceptical of) traditional banner or display ads, often subconsciously blocking them out as they peruse websites and social media. However, native advertising embeds promotional material right alongside the very content they consume, making it harder to miss.

Additionally, when advertisers sponsor posts written by the publishers themselves, you can sometimes piggyback off the trust that the publisher has already established with their audience, making your native ad more likely to be read and believed. This is best seen in this article in The New York Times, which functions both as a real investigation into the plight of female prison inmates, and as a native ad for Netflix’s series about a women’s prison, Orange is the New Black.

Caption: This native ad is identifiable by the words “Paid Post” on the top banner, as well as the logos for both Netflix and the series itself.
Source: Screenshot from The New York Times

What are the benefits of native advertising?

The key benefit of native advertising is its ability to blend in. Because native ads resemble the articles, blog posts and editorial content around them (in some cases, almost perfectly), they’re often less intrusive than traditional banner or display ads. They may also be less susceptible to ad-blocking software, and are more difficult for consumers to ignore.

For this reason, consumers who click on them may not even be aware that they’re promotional in nature, and are more likely to be receptive to the message of the ad. Data from DoubleClick suggests that consumers are more than twice as likely to click on native ads than banner ads. The idea is simple: people mostly skip over banner ads (or, at most, view them in passing), but read and consume native ads in their entirety.

This immersive quality may also contribute to higher success rates for native ads as compared to other online ad formats. One study by Sharethrough found that the use of native ads lead to an 18% increase in purchase intent in comparison to display ads.



Leading Businesses in a Digital World