Marketing Glossary / Native Advertising

Native Advertising

What is Native Advertising? Key Benefits, Examples, and How to Create and Boost Campaigns

In the age of streaming television, mobile devices, and social media, consumers are spending increasingly more time consuming traditional media and influencer-created content online. As a result, advertisers must seek new ways to attract and keep their target audience’s attention.

Exploring the topic, native advertising is an excellent solution to this challenge. Understanding what is native advertising, why it’s important, and how to create and optimize native ad results is crucial for the success of any advertising campaign.

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  • Blogs
  • Mobile apps
  • Online video sites
  • Traditional media publishing platforms
  • Social networks

A native ad can include the following

  • A short video produced by Adobe that follows a professional photographer’s typical day at work that appears in the feed of a social network
  • An infographic published by Wired that illustrates how smart devices make life easier and more comfortable for professionals who work from home, which appears in the feed of a mobile publishing website
  • A live streaming event or webinar promoted in a social media user’s content feed
Illustration of a mobile device highlighting text messages, pictures, video, and graphs.

Native advertising vs. sponsored content

The term “sponsored content” can be confusing when trying to understand native advertising formats. The term is often interchangeable with “branded” or “custom content” created as a form of native advertising. We’ll dive deeper into those native ad examples and opportunities later in this post.

In other cases, “sponsored content” refers to:

  1. Exclusive content created by social media influencers or brand ambassadors for a company’s benefit. Social media creators must disclose that an advertiser has paid them to create content that lives with the other stories or videos in their channels.

  2. Evergreen or feature content created by a traditional media publisher that an advertiser has paid to secure the exclusive opportunity to run its ads before or around the content. This frequently happens with the Olympics and other sporting events.

In all cases, native advertising can help to promote sponsored content online to drive deeper engagement and results that meet a specific content marketing objective.

Native advertising vs. display ads

When brand-driven native ads and content look and feel more like media content and less like a 30-second TV ad, video ad, or banner ad, they can be categorized as native ads.

Native advertising must always be distinguished from traditional or influencer-driven content with a disclosure like “presented by” or “promoted,” which appears in front of or above the headline for a story, and at the start of a video. For proper disclosure rules and regulations, refer to the FTC’s “Native Advertising Guide for Businesses.

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Why is native advertising important?

The unobtrusive nature of native ads makes them an appealing format for marketers and publishers alike. Because native ads appear in the content stream that audience prospects are already consuming, it does not interrupt the flow of the viewer’s experience. That’s what makes the format preferable for consumers, as well.

Illustrations of a video playing an ad on a computer monitor.

A marketer’s native content or in-feed native advertising can quickly reach their targeted audience via:

  • Ad networks
  • Blogs
  • Mobile apps
  • Social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
  • Traditional media channels and magazine publisher websites
  • Video sites like TikTok and YouTube
Illustration of an individual on their laptop with icons of a photo, video, and heart on the side.

Because native ads look and feel more like regular content, this form of advertising can help an advertiser to:

Increase brand awareness Drive deeper engagement Boost overall ad performance
Overall, native ads have been found to drive a higher lift in brand awareness and consumer purchase intent. That’s because online users look at native ads more frequently than traditional display ads. Effective native ads can help to amplify your reach while getting people to like, comment on, and talk about your ads. Advertisers are seeing better overall ad performance with native advertising, with significantly higher click-through rates than the average display ad.

1. In-feed or in-content native ads

These are popular native ad formats that are placed in articles and content feeds. They look and feel like the rest of the content on a website content feed, shopping feed, or social media feeds.

After target audiences click, tap, or swipe on the ads, they will either stay on the same site as the native ad or be directed to an external URL.

The content in the in-feed or in-content native ad can consist of the following:

  • Content recommendations
  • Highlights from downloadable whitepapers or reports
  • Infographics
  • Text-based information
  • Video content
  • Event and email signup forms

These ad units are good for promoting branded content that resides on another site URL or native content hosted on a publisher’s site. It can also prompt people to subscribe to a newsletter, sign-up for an event, or download a whitepaper or report.

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Illustration of an individual sitting down with their laptop looking at ads.

2. Content recommendation ads or content discovery native ads

These native ad units are commonly referred to as either content discovery or recommendation ads. The ad formats can be a single product image, carousel, document, event, video, or text, typically served alongside other editorial content, ads, and paid content.

3. Branded or native content ads

These native ad formats are often referred to as branded content, sponsored content, or custom content. Traditional publishers or content marketing agencies can create native or branded content on behalf of or in collaboration with a brand. However, many large organizations now have in-house content marketing teams.

Branded or native content ads are paid content published in the same format as a full editorial on a publisher's site. The branded content lives among the other stories, videos, or infographics created by the publisher's content teams.

Illustration of a individual looking at a native content ad highlighted on an article.
Illustrations of sponsored content on a computer monitor.

Step 1 - Set appropriate campaign goals

Begin by defining the native ad campaign goals. In most cases, this will involve driving target audiences to consume content housed on a branded site, a media publisher site, or social networking website.

Advertising or content teams should ask themselves why they want target customers to consume the content.

  • Is it to raise brand awareness?
  • Build thought leadership?
  • Generate leads?

Once the campaign goals have been identified, determine how to track and measure success using key performance indicators (KPIs) like downloads, email signups, shares, likes, and comments.

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Step 2 - Identify your target audience and key messages

Campaign goals should be tailored to a specific target audience. Once the audience segment is identified, analyze their online behaviors and preferences to create appropriate and compelling ads and content.

Research their biggest interests and questions posted on existing competitor content, social media, or media publisher content.

Next, determine what content to create by finding the intersection between what your audience wants and what topics you can cover with authority. Tailor that content to the messages and answers with which the target audience resonates the most.

Step 3 - Choose the right targeted platforms and formats

Various online and social media channels reach different types of audiences.

There are multiple services that help marketers identify the demographics of website visitors.

Many ad and social networks also enable marketers to utilize back-end user demographic data – ranging from age and geolocation to job title and company size – to deliver highly targeted native advertising.

For example, LinkedIn offers two native advertising formats: LinkedIn Sponsored Content and LinkedIn Sponsored Messaging. These formats allow marketers to reach their desired target audience however they interact with the LinkedIn platform.

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Step 4 - Create native ads and targeted content

It’s crucial to think more like a content creator than a marketer when creating native ads and branded content. Strive to make native in-feed ads, content recommendations, and custom content so good that the platform or publisher would pay you to run it.

Focus on the target audience and what they want to hear and read, but also make sure to include a call-to-action (CTA) that serves the campaign's goals.

A good CTA can prompt a target customer to:

  • Learn more
  • Read more
  • Download (e.g., a whitepaper, report, or ebook)
  • Sign-up (e.g., for an email newsletter or event)
  • Complete the form (or survey)
  • Get in touch
  • Buy now
  • Try now

To get feedback on a desired campaign approach, consider posting content organically for a few weeks to gain followers and gauge the best performers on your chosen platform(s).

Step 5 - Launch the native ad campaign

After testing organically posted content, convert the best-performing assets into paid placements. Native ads can highlight or tease entertaining and engaging information provided in downloadable or sponsored content. Or they can be a standalone content asset like a video or infographic.

Illustration of an individual sitting down with their laptop looking at videos.

Illustration of an individual sitting down with their laptop looking at graphs

Step 6 - Measure and optimize the impact

Marketers can track and measure native ad performance using campaign reporting and analytics data to understand their campaign:

  • Conversions: The percentage of people who buy something or complete an action via a native ad unit
  • Engagement: Including shares, likes, and comments on native ads and content
  • Pageviews: How many people visited the native content page
  • Time spent: On a native content page or watching a video ad
  • Bounce rate: How quickly people left the native content page after landing on it
  • Referrals: Sent to the native content page from other sources (e.g., social media posts, shares, and emails)
  • Impressions: How many times the ad was seen
  • Leads generated: From content downloads and event signups

With that information, marketers can optimize native ad elements (e.g., headlines, copy, and images) and content offers (e.g., ebooks and infographics) alongside A/B testing to increase audience engagement.

Then, use that information to boost conversions by retargeting the desired target audience based on their meaningful behaviors, such as the pages they visit on a branded or publisher website or social network. Or how they engaged with previous native ads.

By using data about a prospect’s previous interaction with native ads and content, retargeting can help marketers build strong customer relationships through more specific and relevant messaging.

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