Is Native Advertising the Future of Digital Marketing?

Have you ever seen any display or banners ads in BuzzFeed? If you are a regular to the site, your answer will be an emphatic no. Yet, its revenue was close to USD 170 million last year while media houses around it were struggling to survive.

When Netflix was ready with Narcos Season 1 (web crime series), it partnered with Wall Street Journal to bring out an exclusive article on the logistics and financial aspect of running a drug cartel. The media giant published an in-depth report – Cocainenomics, and needless to say, it prompted huge viewers to the show. The series became a critical and commercial success and the producers soon planned for Seasons 2, 3 and 4.

In both case studies above, the connecting thread is native advertising. But what exactly is it? Read on.

What is Native Advertising?

Smart Insights define native advertising as, “Online content that is created for paid promotion of a brand on a media site which doesn’t use a traditional ad format such as a banner ad, but includes editorial content such as a blog post or infographic”…promoted tweets, Facebook news feed ads, AdWords and Bing Ads, SERP ads, StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery, etc.  

Essentially, native advertising is disguised advertising – where the advertising content takes the form and style of the platform in which it appears. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US has defined native advertising as an effective mingling of advertisements with entertainment, news, and other editorial content in digital media.

Contrary to embedded marketing techniques where we place the advertised product/service within the content, in native advertising – both the product/service and content are merged. In many cases, you would not even realise that the content is actually an advertisement.

Native advertising is not new. Google and other search engines have been doing it through paid ads for quite sometime. However, in the last 4-5 years, the buzz has become more prominent. Native advertising is more sophisticated today and include new strategies and innovations.

Some Successful Examples of Native Advertising in the Last Few Years

In 2012, England footballer Wayne Rooney advertised the Nike brand, his sponsor, by simply using his Twitter feed, making it sound more like a personal comment, rather than an advertisement.

In 2013, the 157-year-old magazine, The Atlantic, published a story about the Church of Scientology and its worldwide expansion on its website. There was lot of criticism against it as readers took it as genuine. Later the same day, it pulled the story and ran a statement that started with “we screwed up.” 

In 2015, ‘The A-Zzz of Bedroom Ideas‘ produced by IKEA and The Telegraph was a brilliant native advertisement highlighting the need for IKEA solutions to solve your sleep problem.

Why Companies Should Try Native Advertising?

FIPP, known as a hub of global media knowledge has published a report about the native marketing trends in 2016 – after surveying executives from more than 39 countries. The findings re-emphasises the importance of native advertising for all brands and companies. The key points are:

  • There is more purchase intent in native ads compared to banner ads.
  • For mobile media buyers, almost 97% of them consider native ads more effective at achieving marketing goals.
  • Native advertisements are comparatively economical and easy.
  • Native ads are more subtle and less annoying.
  • Native ads create more brand loyalty.
  • Users consume native advertisements more than the standard banners.
  • Users consume native advertisements more than the editorial content.
  • Great storytelling really works in native advertising.
  • Digital and printed articles, and video content perform the best.
  • Native advertising will grow more in the future.

How is Native Advertising Done?

The IAB Native Advertising Playbook has classified Native Advertising into the following 6 categories:

Content Recommendation Engine Widgets: These ads appear at the bottom of an article or blog post with a heading like “You May Also Like” , “Recommended for You”, “Elsewhere from around the web”, “From around the web”, “You may have missed” etc. The widgets display some external links or references, somewhat on related topics, which when clicked take you to other sites. Examples of recommendation widgets: Outbrain, Taboola, Disqus, Gravity.

Promoted Listings: Promoted listings are usually found in e-commerce sites in the category pages (as ‘sponsored products’). They are related to what the users are searching on the sites. Examples of platforms for promoted listings: Etsy, Amazon, Foursquare.

Paid Search Ads: These are the original native ads. They appear in search result pages of search engines where the ads will be based on the user’s search queries on them, and also on individual sites whose content or products/services match the ads. Google is the most famous example for such native ads.

In-Feed Units: These are sponsored content published within a natural index of articles, placed in a manner that both the original content and the sponsored content from advertisers are visible to the readers as part of a stream or gallery. Examples – Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Forbes.

In-Ad with Native Elements (IAB Standard): These ads are for sites that have standard IAB inventories like 300×250 or 300×600 banners. The ads contain contextually relevant content within them – which encourages the user to engage more with the ads. Example platforms that provide IAB inventories: Onespot, Appssavvy, Martini Media, Federated Media, EA.

Custom Ads: These ads are contextual ads that do not have a standard format but are created on the basis of a person’s browsing activity. Depending on his searches or the ads he clicked, he gets to see ads which might be of interest to him. For example, if you visit a site having a playlist for workout music, you might come across ads for sports products or sports drink. Example platforms where this is done: Tumblr, Pandora, Spotify, Flipboard, Hearst.

Native Advertising Platforms

Apart from the ones mentioned in the above section, here are some more platforms (with unique features) for Native Advertising:

  • AdsNative: Both in-feed and in-ad placement strategies are used.
  • Adtile: Gives focus on native advertising solutions for the mobile industry.
  • AdYouLike: Promotes brand content in any type of editorial content.
  • BidTellect: Targeted native ads are delivered across all devices and in all formats.
  • Connatix: Content spread across web and mobile media properties.
  • Disqus: A blog comment hosting service.
  • DistroScale: A marketplace for delivering, buying and measuring native content.
  • Kargo: Mobile marketplace.
  • MoPub: A full-featured ad platform optimized for mobile publishers.
  • Namo Media: Allows any mobile app to do custom mobile advertising.
  • Plista: Users are helped to determine what advertisements and recommendations to receive.
  • PubNative: Mobile publishers earn revenue by implementing native advertising.
  • Yahoo Gemini: All mobile search and native ads can be optimised in one single place.
  • Yieldmo: Optimizing revenue for publishers and connecting them with advertisers.
  • Zemanta: The original content optimized for multiple distributions.

But is Native Advertising Free from Criticism?

Several reporters and thought leaders feel that native advertising will lead to the fall of journalism. Some say that native ads make the content look organic though it is sponsored and it tricks consumers to fall for it. The ads are misleading and readers cannot differentiate between articles and ads.

Well, to counter such criticisms, the IAB (conglomerate of leading media and technology companies for digital advertising and marketing in the US) has come out with the following guidelines to standardize native advertising:

  • There must be visual clues. These must be created in such a manner that the readers must be able to identify the ad as sponsored.
  • Native ads must be labeled as ‘Promoted’ or ‘Sponsored’.
  • Consumers should know to identify the editorial of native ad content.


Traditional advertising formats like rich media and display are rapidly fading away from people’s minds. So look for native advertising opportunities for your brands. They have a strong but less intrusive format and can be integrated well into sites, apps and mobile platforms.

Today, be it the search engines like Google or Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube – marketing platforms are offering different forms of native advertising with the perfect combination of format, scale, looks and feel of advertisements and messages.


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