Native Advertising: advertising that doesn’t look like it

Have you ever heard of Native Advertising? It is a form of online advertising that is gradually gaining popularity and that allows the user’s experience to be undisturbed while browsing a site of interest. In this mini-guide, I explain:

  • what native advertising is and how it is evolving;
  • because it is innovative;
  • because marketers like it and do not interrupt users;
  • how to run an effective campaign;
  • how it is regulated.

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What is Native Advertising

As I mentioned earlier, Native Advertising, or Native Advertising, is a form of advertising typical of the web that takes the form of the content of the site on which it is hosted in order to create interest. It can be said to be an advertising method that camouflages content and advertisements within the editorial context in which they are placed.

native advertising examples

This is done both graphically and in terms of content. It becomes crucial, even in the case of advertising, to develop good content that is relevant to the site on which it is placed. Only then will the degree of fusion of the two elements be the winning one.

Want an example? It is native advertising to include an advertisement for football boots in an article about a match or a footballer.

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The experts’ definitions

Marketing expert Mitch Joel gave Native Advertising a definition in 2013, according to which it means an advertising format created specifically for a certain media, both in terms of the technical format and the content (creativity).

What is the objective? It is quite intuitive: Native Advertising makes the advertisement less intrusive so that it does not interrupt the content on which the user has placed his attention. In this way, the percentage of clicks and interactions on the ad can be increased.

In 2015, Campbell and Marks defined it as a form of online advertising desired by consumers that are integrated into the organic flow of content. It is a unique form of online advertising in which the consumer gives the advertiser permission to communicate with them and the advertising format minimizes the disruption of the user experience in which it is embedded.

From this second definition emerges a very important aspect, enhancement of the user experience, which has a dual purpose: on the one hand to optimize the likelihood of the advertising content being viewed and on the other hand to make this content more relevant.

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How Native Advertising was born

We can say that the emergence of Native Advertising is a direct consequence of the now widespread phenomenon of banner blindness. Let me explain. Each of us, daily users of the Internet, has developed a good ability to identify the advertising spaces that are contained in the web pages we visit. This ability we have acquired has made us largely indifferent to advertising, which then becomes ineffective.

It seems that banner blindness is constantly expanding and therefore advertisers are constantly looking for new forms of advertising that are able to truly stimulate interest.

Thanks to Native Advertising, however, the obstacle of banner blindness can be circumvented because the sponsored content is immersed in the editorial content.

sample of effective advertising


How Native Advertising Evolved

An important step dates back to 2008 when Europe’s leading publishing group Gruner + Jahr made a significant investment in this sector and acquired Ligatus, which we can call the pioneers of native adv.

In the United States, there are various platforms that handle native advertising for different sites, e.g. Nativo and Sharethrough, whose CEO Dan Greenberg was one of the first to use the term Native Advertising, referring to it as a type of media integrated into the design and where advertisements are part of the content

Also in the United States, there are proprietary platforms Washington Post’s WP BrandConnect and Forbes’ Brandvoice. In 2013, even The New York Times started using forms of native adv with articles sponsored by Dell.

In 2013, the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) also published an official document, it’s first, on Native Advertising. The document is called Native Advertising Playbook and makes a clustering into six categories of the most popular ads which I will explain later in 2015.

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Comparisons with other forms of advertising

To give you a clear picture of Native Advertising and not confuse your ideas, here is a comparison with content marketing and other forms of advertising.

forms of advertising

Native Advertising and Content Marketing

Based on what I have told you so far, you may be wondering if there is some confusion with content marketing; actually, there is not. Content marketing is about providing information rather than playing a promotional role.

The Internet in general, and social media in particular, have fundamentally changed the relationship between consumers and brands, who feel that the strategy of interruption marketing is no longer effective, to the benefit of native adv with its promotional purpose.

Native Advertising and Traditional Advertising

What is behind native advertising? The flow of consumer thought. Contextual advertising such as native advertising does not interrupt attention but creates more interest and engagement than traditional advertising.

At a time when we are all really bombarded by online advertising messages, it is definitely worth avoiding communicating with banners and other intrusive forms of advertising, which no longer produce concrete results in communicative effectiveness and persuasion.

While traditional advertising aims to distract the reader from the content of his or her interest in order to communicate the message, Native Advertising instead immerses the advertisement in context.

Native Advertising and Advertorials

If you are reading the text of a web page, it means that the topic interests you. You will most likely also be interested in advertising if it is an integral part of it. The fusion of content and advertising messages in the same editorial context differs from advertorial precisely because the advertiser is made explicit.

The organicity with which the content of Native Advertising fits into the naturalness of the user’s navigation means that the distinction between pure editorial content and sponsored editorial content is very subtle, despite the fact that advertising content must be marked as sponsored.

Why Use Native Advertising

From what you have read so far, it seems clear that this is no longer an interesting novelty on the online advertising scene, but a reality that is becoming increasingly consolidated and will become more and more widespread precisely because of its characteristic of integrating itself perfectly with the context in which it is embedded

Those who design and implement native adv campaigns aim not only to attract the user’s attention but to create real engagement. This is why it is not interruptive and is therefore a good online marketing tool for Digital Marketing Managers to have in mind when devising marketing strategies.

From a marketer’s point of view

Native Advertising circumvents the obstacle of banner blindness because the sponsored message content is immersed in the editorial content; this increases the reach of the message. Today, in fact, many brands are shifting their investments from PPC (Pay Per Click) ad promotion within valuable content because that is where user attention is highest and a good level of engagement can be generated

If there is a lot of quality, free content on a site, it is a good thing to periodically insert paid content from an advertiser. By doing so, you do not lose the trust of your readers and in addition, you maintain the economic profitability ratios that are needed to continue the publishing project.

Native advertising works, the numbers prove it:

  • Native ads are seen 53% more than displayed ads;
  • purchase intent increases by 18% thanks to this type of ad.

Continuous exposure to online forms of advertising creates boredom in the audience, in fact, we can all say that we no longer pay attention to them. Native advertisements on the other hand do not have this effect, they are brand exposure in the form of editorial content precisely so as not to tire the audience

Consumers are aware that they are watching a native ad, Standford University has also studied this highlighting how these ads have an important effect on purchasing behavior.

There is also a Forbes study that shows that more than half of the big brands use customized videos for marketing and are very much in favor of using Native Advertising. The reason is simple, to distribute valuable content that is visually harmonized on the site that hosts it and creates a consistent experience for the user.

customized videos for marketing

Advantages of native advertising

A study by Yahoo and Enders Analysis, called Native Advertising in Europe to 2020, clearly highlights how predominant Native Advertising will be in the coming years.

If you are a marketer, I don’t think you need much more to realize that native advertising is a form of advertising to be explored and tried. In addition to the growth estimates, important considerations also emerge from this study.

The use of native adv has positive aspects for both publishers and advertisers. For publishers, an important factor is the creation of exclusive formats that allow them to differentiate from traditional banner and ad offers.

For agency professionals, on the other hand, it is a way of improving both the performance and efficiency of traditional digital advertising campaigns.

Another aspect that again this study highlights is this: Native Advertising can potentially reduce the effectiveness of ad-blocking. Native advertising shows itself as content that integrates well into the publishing context that hosts it and, for this very reason, software that performs ad-blocking has difficulty detecting this form of digital advertising

It becomes a real opportunity to devise new standards to be used for an advertising format that is based on user preferences. In fact, in this way, viewers will have fewer reasons to decide to block ads.

Mobile users are rapidly influencing the enjoyment of content and this represents a great opportunity for advertisers. Native is an extremely effective format on small screens and creates a more interaction-generating and contextual experience.

It is a scalable solution for publishers and a creative and measurable opportunity for advertising professionals, offering an optimal solution on both sides.

These were the words of Nick Hugh, VP of EMEA at Yahoo when the research was done. For Enders Analysis, on the other hand, Joseph Evans, digital media analyst, said:

Native advertising seems to be one of those rare win-win situations for the market: more effectiveness for advertising professionals, more value for publishers, and more return from users. Being perfect for mobile, social, and mobile video contexts, means that growth in native will help drive investment in digital display advertising.

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How to run a Native Advertising campaign

Now that you know what native advertising is and have understood its usefulness and potential, I will tell you how to actually do effective native advertising:

  • Set up a campaign that is omnichannel, i.e. multi-channel because then you can use all channels on the various possible devices: PC, mobile, and tablet can do this precisely because the nature of Native Advertising gives you the opportunity to reach all consumers who are in your target audience and you can control whether the advertising is effective in relation to the budget you have allocated.
  • Identify the format that works best: There are several, ranging from sponsored to in-feed or social. Each format has its own characteristics and brings different benefits. To make sure you make the right choice, you need to understand which one is right for you based on the message you want to convey and the audience you are targeting.
  • Make sure that the communicative style of your advertising is truly consistent with the context that will host it: If it is native Advertising, the tone, and style, including the visual style, must be in harmony with the web page on which it is placed because it must be consistent and not appear as a distracting traditional communication.
  • Set realistic, achievable, and consistent goals: Each native advertising format has characteristics that bring different benefits. That is why you must pay attention to the metrics you choose that will be used to measure the effectiveness of your advertising against the goals you set at the beginning.
  • Perform measurements and optimization: Be careful when evaluating how to propose your native Advertising to the consumer. Try to use the approach that is closest to your objectives, to the medium you have decided to use, and not least to your target audience. It is not the use itself that is successful, but it will be if you measure and study the different variables to optimize your campaign.

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Native Adv, how to recognize it?

You can find native advertising not only embedded in web pages as recommended content but also in social media, embedded in your feed. Due to its characteristic of blending in and harmonizing with the editorial context in which it is inserted, it is not disruptive and does not disturb the navigation and enjoyment of the content

How can one tell that it is a form of advertising? If a native ad has all appearance of normal content you who are reading may not realize that you are in front of a paid ad. This is also to the detriment of the publisher, who must be super parties.

Those who oversee advertising, such as the IAB and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), in order to protect consumers, regulate the use of this form of advertising precisely so that there is no deception.

Thus, native advertising integrates perfectly into the web page but you can recognize that it is advertising because:

  • Find the words “sponsored”, “recommended for you” or even “suggested post”.
  • There is a small icon in the top right-hand corner; if you click it, it indicates that it is an advertisement.
  • Find suggested or recommended videos.

The IAB Guidelines

The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) is the largest association in the field of digital advertising. IAB operates at a national level and in 2015 presented “Native Advertising The Art of Making”, which regulates native adv and is the counterpart of the Native Advertising Playbook, published in the USA in 2013

Both works were created to answer a simple question: is Native Advertising and what is not?

Goals and forms: 6 questions to ask yourself

Are you a company and want to do Native Advertising? To understand the right objectives and forms for this type of advertising, start with these six questions:

  1. Is the advertisement in line with the design of the page on which it is placed, i.e. does it follow the user’s navigation flow?
  2. Does the advertising follow the functioning of the other elements of the page, i.e. does it allow the same kind of experience in the fruition of the content?
  3. Does the advertising adapt to the content around it, i.e. is the content linked to the same site or does it refer to another site?
  4. Is the advertisement placed on a specific page or is it embedded in a network of sites? What targeting can you do?
  5. With which metrics can you measure the results of advertising? Will you use metrics that are useful in the early stages of the customer journey (time spent on the page, views) or those you use later (downloads, registration, filling in contact forms)?
  6. Is the label indicating that the content is an advertisement, also called disclosure, prominently displayed?

The diagram below comes from the 6 questions just listed; at the extremes are the answers to the questions. If your answers rank further to the left, then you are doing Native Advertising.

doing advertising

The Six Formats of Native Advertising

Again based on the answers to the six questions, the IAB identified six native advertising formats. Here they are:

  1. In-feed: of all of them, they have the most variety. They range from sponsored articles on websites to social adv. Sponsored articles, however, are the narrowest form of native adv because they fit harmoniously and naturally into the publisher’s content. Indeed, it often happens that it is the publisher’s editorial team itself that produces this content. Why? This way the style of the advertisement will be similar to the surrounding articles and they will be sold with a certain positioning. This way, the company knows exactly what content is around, and engagement metrics can be measured.
  2. Sponsored ads on search engine pages: these are the ads that appear among the first results of the SERP of the page that the search engine shows you after you type in the topic of your interest. They are native because their display is in harmony with the organic results that the search engine renders to you, in fact, they look the same. As it should be, you recognize that it is Native Advertising by the label present: a box with “Ann.” written inside.
  3. Recommendation widgets: these are advertising links usually found at the bottom of an article published on a site. They serve to recommend further content similar to or related to what you have read. Although this link refers to an external site, it is native to the way you find it in the flow of navigation. It must be recognized that this format of all is the one that most closely resembles display advertising, from which it differs in that it is less invasive and has fewer objectives. In fact, this format is aimed at engaging the reader, at the level of metrics it is based on views.
  4. Sponsored lists: these are actual product lists of companies placed on sites that have no editorial content and have a link to a landing page of the company. They are structured to integrate with the user experience of the site.
  5. In-ad: it is a kind of advertising container, which is placed outside the editorial content, but has contextually relevant content.
  6. Custom: this includes everything that is native but cannot be included in the formats already outlined. It can take many forms, always customized and consistent with the host site.

The list represents a precise order, from most native in the strictest sense to mildest, so according to the IAB an advertisement is native if:

  • It has a format in line with the page design and is perceived as non-interruptive;
  • It is set in a context that camouflages it and is consistent with the other elements present;
  • It has similar content around it and facilitates the user experience;
  • It is internal to a page or site and is consistent with the target audience of the advertiser;
  • It is measurable with brand engagement metrics in the early stages of the customer journey.

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Native advertising on mobile devices

As you can see from this graphic from the IAB, Native Advertising on mobile devices also follows the same principles whereby there is harmony with what you display.

mobile device ads

These are In-feed format ads, the purest form, which in this case are declined in:

  • In-feed content, which can be either paid or free. You can find them in the form of text, games, or videos immersed in the content.
  • In-feed commerce, which are lists of products found within product feeds in e-commerce.
  • In-feed social, which is sponsored content and messages in your social network feed. These are the ones you are certainly most familiar with Facebook-promoted posts, Twitter-promoted tweets, and YouTube reviews.

feed content

commerce feeds

social feeds

Native Advertising: 6 case histories

There are many companies that have not missed the opportunity to do native advertising by combining their brand with events, popular events, celebrities, and more. We could give dozens of examples to demonstrate this. For now, we limit ourselves to listing 6 excellent case histories, but if you want to go deeper… discover the best examples of Native Advertising we have collected for you!

  • Spotify and Stranger Things: the American science fiction TV series Stranger Things had a huge following and the first episode was watched by 15.8 million people in the US. Spotify, the on-demand music streaming platform, did not miss the opportunity and matched users of its platform with characters from TV series based on their listening habits.
  • Gatorade and Serena Williams: unique gamification opportunity. The game allows the chance to win the match point of as many as 22 major victories of Serena Williams, with one click and no download.
  • Airbnb and Ellis Island: the history of travel and hospitality is retraced through Airbnb’s collaboration with The New York Times. It’s an educational story that dives into the past in an interactive way and tells what it was like to immigrate to America. You can navigate through 4 chapters that have real stories and old photos of Airbnb guests within them. Thrills back in time.
  • Audi on Super Bowl day: during such a media event in 2017, a 60-second spot did not even show a car but defended equal pay, emphasizing a social issue. It was a great success among adults, but also among younger people.
  • Goldman Sachs and Marcus: the financial giant revamped its image by creating an online lending company, Marcus. Interactive infographics and a loan calculator made the financial service offered practical and useful.
  • Lego Mosaic Maker: In an attempt to represent all its fans, Lego created a photo booth and a Lego brick dispenser at its London headquarters. In this way, visitors could recreate their own headshot of bricks. This led to users generating a lot of content.

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