Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Native Advertising

Jill Conway


February 25, 2020 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

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In this article… 


Advertising is a key way to attract consumers to your business, and native advertising may be the smartest way to engage readers and viewers. With this in mind, it’s important to tailor your ads according to your brand needs, your audience, and the platforms you are using to advertise. In this article, you can learn the fundamentals of native advertising and how marketers implement native ad campaigns into their overall marketing strategy.

What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is a form of paid media that has the look and feel of editorial content. It creates brand awareness by delivering relevant content designed to fulfill an audience’s expectations. Native advertising appeals to consumers more so than traditional advertising because it promotes interesting content in an aesthetically pleasing layout. Online, native ads do not look like standard display or banner ads that have been around since the early years of the internet. By design, they blend in with the format of their surroundings.

Who Uses Native Advertising?

Marketers use native advertising to help their clients and employers reach business goals. Online marketers use their knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques when creating native content to ensure successful marketing campaigns.

woman sitting at desk on a laptop

Image via Flickr by emailmarketingorganics

Business owners enlist the help of marketers because they need creative solutions to their problems. They often don’t have time to create the content themselves and prefer to pay professionals to oversee their marketing efforts. Native ads are an effective approach to marketing and help solve some common issues related to profitability and website traffic generation. Content-based ads provide value not only to the companies who are promoting them but also to consumers.

When Should You Use Native Ads?

Native ads are among the most common types of advertising because they provide a competitive way to reach new audiences, especially those within the e-commerce sector. Besides drawing in new prospects, businesses should use native ads when they’re looking for unique ways to boost brand and product awareness.

Consumers tire of seeing ads with a hard product sell. After constant information overload, readers may experience ad fatigue, which leads them to ignore display ads. Native ads provide brand exposure in a creative, engaging way.  Marketers often choose native advertising over traditional advertising due to its non-disruptive nature that increases the success rate of campaigns. Creating content that looks and feels familiar to consumers creates a seamless transition. When consumers are satisfied with the information they’ve read, it may result in positive purchasing behavior.

Where Can I Find Native Ads?

Native advertising is everywhere, especially online. Though the concept of native advertising originated as advertorials within print publications, native ads now dominate online advertising. Websites that show traditional ads contain native ads as well. Popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter show native ads to site users. Third-party publishers that provide entertainment and news show native ads, often in the form of content recommendations. Popular apps include podcasts and games created by brands.

As native advertising continues to flourish, it’s important to evaluate the needs of your brand to consider which form of native advertising provides the best approach. While some brands base their campaigns around a specific platform, it is important to consider all aspects of your strategy by considering platform usage, audience demographics, and even potential decisions consumers may make.

Examples of Native Advertising

Native ads are adaptable to many formats. Studies have shown that on average, Americans spend more than three and a half hours a day on mobile devices. Whether you frequently visit social media sites or casually read magazines, online articles, and newspapers, you’ve likely engaged with native advertising. Consumers are familiar with native ads and don’t seem to mind because they continue to interact with them.

Here are some of the top examples of native advertising:

Print Advertorials

The word “advertorial” was first recorded in 1917. Advertorials first appeared in many places—on the radio, television, magazines, and newspapers. They’ve been used for decades to draw in consumers with interesting content, and have given rise to the digital versions of native ads we know today.

Upon first glance, print advertorials look like editorial content because they mirror relevant content and spec layout found within the publication. By design, good advertorials blend into the context of their surroundings.

graphic explaining the different camera lense options

Image via Flickr by MZ Graphic Design

So how do you recognize advertorials for what they are?

Because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the labeling of advertorials and prohibits any misleading advertising, companies must identify their native ads as such. Look closely and you’ll see the word “advertisement” or something similar (typically in small print) somewhere within the ad layout. Additionally, marketers often include a clear call to action. This means you’ll probably see commands like the following:

  • Call now for more information
  • Visit our website to learn more
  • Buy now
  • Get four free issues
  • Join our email list
  • Follow us on social media

Online Advertorials

These are labeled as “sponsored content” that may or may not include an obvious call to action. As a whole, online native ads are designed to draw people in with catchy headlines and links that offer things like eBooks and special sales. They are typically embedded among other website content for a seamless user experience. You can identify online advertorials disguised as articles by reading the content. Scan through the copy and you’ll likely find a hyperlink that directs you to another site where you can watch, read, or buy something.

Brands pay for content that sometimes does not have a clear call to action but is surrounded by banner ads that do. The goal of sponsored content is to increase brand awareness. The identifying phrases of sponsored content that you’ll recognize include phrases like “sponsored by,” “promoted,” or even “affiliated with.”

Video Advertorials

Companies hire creative agencies or produce in-house video content with the intention of selling, though the messaging is not always as clear. Engaging content that elicits a positive response works in the brand’s favor. People remember video ads that make them laugh or cry, though crying is not always a bad thing. The objective is to evoke an emotional response, for a lasting connection that drives people to complete the action you want.

A great video ad has a collection of key elements that work harmoniously together. Successful video ads do the following things:

  • Draw people in within the first three seconds
  • Target the right audience
  • Evoke an emotional response
  • Provide a clear call-to-action
  • Deliver a message quickly

Think of your favorite ads and why you love them. Chances are, a creative team used these five elements in a unique and memorable way that made you take action. Or at least made you curious enough to research the brand.

Single-sponsor Issues

One way companies unclutter the ad environment is by solely sponsoring a magazine issue. The main purpose of this native ad type is to increase brand awareness that gets people excited to learn more about a brand and what it sells. The messaging does not include a clear call to action. Beyond the pages of print, marketers can become a single sponsor online by purchasing all of the ad inventory on a website or network of sites for a designated period of time.

A memorable example of a single-sponsor issue occurred in August of 2005 when Target bought all available ad space within The New Yorker. This amounted to 18 pages of Target ads, plus the cover of the August 22 issue.

Branded Content

This type of content is created by the brand itself, then sent to the publisher. Brands create engaging content in many ways. As the expert authority for their brand, companies have the advantage of knowing exactly what they want to produce. Brands will often collaborate with relevant influencers to create unforgettable content that ultimately drives their online traffic and sales. But often, their creative department will use local resources to get the job done.

The quality of content marketing continues to reach new heights. Brands are looking for new ways to stand out and get noticed. Some of the most recent trends with native advertising involve human interest stories, creative solutions, fiction connected with fact, and underdog victories. Infusing these themes into your branded content keeps it interesting and thought-provoking, which keeps people engaged.

Product Placement

When many people hear of the phrase product placement, they think of movies and TV shows that include products with brand names on display. But how does it carry over to the online realm? Building brand awareness can be done in many ways. Some articles on popular websites list the specific names of a product in passing as part of a larger concept. Some companies feature photos and videos with brand-name clothing and other objects in very visible locations.

astronaut on the moon with a McDonalds Flag

Image via Flickr by Ben Heine

One example of a recent product placement involved a video of a happy dad relaxing in a pool float. He surprises him by emerging from the water with a shark fin on his back. The overall message created by the video’s founder, Rocket Mortgage, effectively conveyed the ease of using its mortgage services. Because the video included the placement of Fin Fun Mermaid’s wearable shark fin, it also promoted another product, to a lesser degree.  Did Fin Fun’s loyal audience catch onto the product placement? Related metrics won’t accurately portray the presence of product recognition, but the video tells a story that resonates with its audience.

In-feed Native Ads

One of the most common in-feed ads you’ll see appears within the news feed or discovery page of social networks. They have the look and feel of a social media post, yet are easily identified because they contain the words “sponsored” or “promoted.” Social media posts that show up as “sponsored” in your feed are a form of native advertising. People who see these types of posts fit into a target demographic specified by the advertiser.

Screenshot of Facebook's Newsfeed

Image via Flickr by william couch

Algorithms within social media platforms analyze user behavior and show relevant ads. You may have had the experience of scrolling through your Instagram feed and discovering an interesting product post by a brand you’ve never heard of and that you’re not following. You’re seeing a native ad directed at people who have similar interests. In-feed ads have mixed results. Some people love them because they’re able to learn about new products or services that match their lifestyle. But those who are the target of a misguided ad, get annoyed by them.

CopyPress creatives are skilled in executing social media promotion that gets results. And you can monitor real-time results related to your campaign through our content management software. Plus, our community of influencers may just provide the boost your brand needs to achieve success.

Search and Promoted Listings

Native ads exist on the search engine results page (SERP). These ad listings appear directly under the Google or Bing search bar after you’ve entered in a specific search term and they’re prefaced by the word “Ad” in bold print. Many companies enlist the help of SEO experts to ensure their ads appear at the top of the SERP. The exact layout of the native ads that appear in search listings is dependent on the search engine itself and the type of device being used.

Promoted ads blend into the search results seamlessly, as they are designed to look like the rest of the listings that appear. Paid search ads appear above the organic results, while promoted listings appear on sites as content that mirrors other content on the page.

Recommendation Widgets

Recommendation widgets are a type of native ad that shows recommended articles near the article you’re currently reading. These articles are similar in content and show articles from that specific channel or platform. By design, native ad widgets look like the rest of the page and appear in various places on a webpage. They may exist in the header, as a slider, within the feed, and even at the bottom. Advertisers pay site publishers per link click for this service.

Screenshot of the New York Times site with native ads

Image via Flickr by StefiSpice

They are easy to locate and include phrases like these:

  • You may also like
  • You’ll probably like
  • Related articles
  • Recommended blogs
  • Just for you
  • Around the web
  • Recommended
  • Trending around the web
  • Promoted stories

A single recommendation widget contains a few ads. Widgets provide site users with entertaining content related to their interests. Widgets are a great way to grab attention and steer people in your direction.

Custom Content Units

This term for native advertising refers to native ads that don’t fit into any of the other categories but still contain valuable ad content. Custom playlists, for example, are too platform-specific to be labeled as their own category but receive high levels of engagement. Marketers work directly with publishers to adapt to the user’s experience on an individual site. For example, companies like Spotify offer brands ad experiences that are engaging and highly effective. You may consider a podcast series, audio ad, video takeover, or another type of sponsored session.

Two men in the gym working out to the radio

Image via Flickr by Power Athlete

Custom content units attract new clients and customers through the use of specific platforms. Because consumers crave unique content, this type of native ad may be especially suited for your brand. When considering your options for native advertising, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to choose just one type of native ad. The key is to monitor your campaign progress while continuing to do what works best for your brand.

Benefits of Native Advertising

Though traditional forms of advertising still prove useful, native advertising allows you to curate your ad content in an appealing way that feels less invasive. When done correctly, native advertising can improve your brand’s image and attract potential consumers. Here are some of the main benefits of native advertising:

High Visibility

According to a recent ad study, 25% more consumers saw in-feed native ad placements than standard banner ads. This proves that although native ads may not stand out as much initially, they still end up being more effective when it comes to drawing in consumers. Psychologically, people pay more attention to ads that mimic the formats they enjoy.

Increased Engagement and Reach

The purpose of any ad is to convince a consumer to take action. Though some ads attempt to engage their audience, they often fall short because of the way they choose to advertise. Native ads combat this with highly engaging content that rivals traditional ads. They take a soft approach to selling that feels more like an ask than a demand. And they do it in a way that makes people want to share ad content.

Social media platforms make it easy for brands to reach new audiences thanks to the functions that allow users to like, share, and follow posts. How exactly does this work? Every time you see a native ad and decide to interact with it, you are one step closer to a purchase. Sometimes people save native ad content for later reading, but often, they immediately “like” or share the content with friends and family. They may even one step further and tag someone they think would enjoy the content.

Tagging people on platforms like Facebook and Twitter instantly creates an expanded audience for your brand. Depending on the individual privacy levels set within the platform, your brand’s shared content may reach thousands of people in a matter of minutes. That’s why it’s so important to create content that people want to see, otherwise, the chance for organic exposure disappears. People appreciate valuable content and when they find it, they don’t hesitate to share it with their networks.

Seamless Integration

People respond better to ads when they don’t get in the way of what they’re trying to accomplish. Traditional ads often require people to take extra steps to achieve their goals, which can lead to negative experiences. For example, pop-up ads that appear shortly after visiting a website can block content at the most inconvenient times, like when you’re scrolling through a recipe trying to locate the main ingredients and directions. Or when you’re trying to read get the latest celebrity gossip.

Marketers set pop-ups this way because they provoke action. Of course, forcing people to take action does not always go over well. Distracting ads feel invasive and cause people to lose their place on a page. You’ve likely had times when you chose to exit the content entirely because of pesky pop-ups. Native placements take a different approach. They provide relevant, useful content in a welcoming format that simplifies the user experience.

Quality Storytelling

Consumers are twice as likely to view native ads that look like editorial content because everyone enjoys a good story. When audiences perceive these ads as part of a site’s content, they’re more likely to interact with them. This means that marketers must become journalists in a sense because they are not just strategizing placement, they’re creating high-quality content. Of course, the level of quality differs from brand to brand. At CopyPress, our team of creatives knows quality storytelling. Your message will reach the right audiences in the way you intend, with maximum impact.

How to Implement Native Advertising

Native advertising works because it reaches engaged audiences who are already consuming content. And marketers who use native advertising techniques know that success relies on following the right steps. When properly planned, native ads pack a powerful punch combined with your overall marketing strategy. Before you implement native ad campaigns designed to help your business grow, there are some key steps you should take to ensure your advertising efforts work well:

1. Define Your Brand Goals

Don’t make the mistake of running ads before you take the time to plan out your goals. While the biggest goal you’re trying to achieve is likely getting people to interact with your content, there are other aspects to consider. Beyond general interaction, you might consider setting measurable goals related to brand awareness, increased site traffic, conversions, collaborations, and more. In addition to this, decide how you’ll track your campaign progress to help your team measure success.

Social media platforms provide business owners with campaign data and customizable reports that show how people interact with your brand. But it can be time-consuming if you are constantly having to check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube analytics. Consider social media management platforms like Hootsuite or Loomly, which link your social channels together and provide results in one big report. You can compare results month to month or customize the timeframe.

2. Choose the Right Message for Your Audience

You’ve set goals and planned how you’ll monitor progress. Now it’s time to choose the right message for your audience. If you haven’t already, spend time researching your target demographic for a better look at their interests so you can create relevant content that’s appealing to your audience segment.

There are several ways you can gain insight into your target audience. Within the various social media platforms, there are tools for businesses and marketers that provide specific demographic data about the people who interact with your account and any corresponding posts. This data includes information like age, location, and gender.

Once you’ve gotten a feel for your audience, you can start brainstorming topics that appeal to them. Choose topics that are well known to your brand. You might create a list of content ideas based on your observations or go directly to the source. Try creating a poll on your Facebook wall or within your company’s Instagram stories designed to gauge your followers’ interest in certain topics. Once you’ve got some great content ideas, plan how you’ll turn them into ads. Developing a personal connection with your audience will drive content that is appealing and authoritative.

3. Select Your Platform and Native Ad Format

You’ve created a solid list of content ideas. Now what? Recognize that your followers exist in many places. For instance, the followers you have on Facebook may not be the same ones who follow your brand on Instagram. People who visit your website may not follow you on social media at all. They may have discovered your brand through an article they were reading on a news and entertainment website, then clicked a link that took them directly to your site.

With this in mind, discuss how you intend to reach each of these different audiences and how your content will vary from platform to platform. Some of the content you create may be difficult to share across the board. Many brands start by publishing newly created content on their site blog. This often entails a full-length version of a video or blog post. From there, content creators grab 30-second clips and stills from these original content sources to generate bite-sized content that’s more appealing to busy consumers.

4. Create Your Campaigns

Now comes the fun part—creating unique content that’s appealing and top-quality. Since you’ve already researched your audience, the content they want to see, and how you plan to execute it, this should be fairly straightforward. The creation process may involve interviewing, writing, designing, filming, or photographing content.

If you’re writing a blog post that includes your company’s top picks or provides an in-depth tutorial that incorporates some of your brand’s products, you’ll want to include as many of these creative elements as possible for an authoritative and interesting read. Because audiences enjoy human interest stories, you can consider interviewing a celebrity or expert in your industry who can provide a unique perspective you couldn’t get anywhere else.

5. Push Content Naturally

Once you’ve created your campaigns, you can start pushing them to the appropriate platforms that you planned earlier in the process. A blog post may live on your website but can also be linked on social media to reach your Facebook and Twitter audiences. If you spent the time and money to produce professional photos that really enhance your content, use it as much as possible. Appealing images are well-suited for Instagram and Pinterest audiences and you should plan to post them more than once. Go one step further and create a live video telling your fans to check out your recently published content.

Posting organically helps you gain followers and discover which topics get the best results. Try posting two to three new pieces of content within a month’s timeframe to see how well they perform. By monitoring engagement and reach, you’ll know exactly what is and isn’t working.

6. Move Ahead with Proven Strategies

Now that you’ve given your content time to grow, you’re ready to start running some ads. Use the most popular content that received the highest level of engagement, then refer to the data you gathered previously about your audience to target your content to the right audiences. Don’t waste time on a broad audience when you already know who is most likely to interact with your ad. For example, if your target demographic includes women between the ages of 18 and 50 in the U.S., be sure to adjust your ad setting to focus on this audience.

7. Watch Your Metrics

Experienced marketers recognize the importance of tracking their native ad campaigns. Using platforms like Google Analytics you can easily measure engagement, page views, conversions, referrals, impressions, and other types of responses to your website and native ads.

When you work with influencers, don’t forget to set up UTM tracking links for them to include within the content. Having unique links helps you measure the progress of specific collaborations, as well as gauges the effectiveness of a campaign. This helps you determine the best place to spend your marketing dollars.

8. Experiment with A/B Testing

After you’ve gotten familiar with creating and tracking ads, try experimenting with A/B testing to increase return on investment (ROI) and overall conversion rates. A/B testing allows you to run two ads simultaneously by dividing your audience in half and showing each half a variation of your ad. When you run these ads, you can optimize different elements of an ad, like the headline, images, copy or content format.

One rule of thumb when experimenting with A/B testing is to stick with one element at a time. For instance, if you want to see which image of the two creates higher engagement, only change the image and nothing else. If you want to experiment with formal versus informal copy, then only test the copy changes. Testing one element of a time helps you know exactly what works and what doesn’t.

9. Retarget Your Ads

Looking for that extra oomph when running ads? Boost conversions by retargeting special audiences who have already shown an interest in your brand. Retargeting ads show content based on user behavior. These ads contain products that people recently viewed or remind them about items left in their carts. When people engage with your ads, this provides further information for marketers that helps them make informed decisions. Also, it helps businesses develop a relationship with their prospective customers by showing them relevant ads.

Tips for Achieving Success with Native Advertising

Moving ahead with native advertising involves many decisions about budget, resources, and timing. Your first attempt may feel awkward and slow, but with time your marketing techniques will improve. Remember that mistakes are learning experiences. They help you create better results the next time around and your efforts will become more efficient. Here are some tips for success when running native ads:

Consider Audience Usage 

When thinking about your audience’s behavior, picture the devices they’re using to view your content. Studies have shown that the majority of online users access content through mobile devices. You’ll want to keep this in mind when you’re planning your native ad strategy. Consider the readability, length, and overall appeal of your content and how it looks on someone’s phone. Just because the average person spends three hours a day on their phone doesn’t mean they’ll prioritize the consumption of your content over other content.

How content looks on a desktop computer versus a mobile device can differ dramatically. Take steps to ensure your content is mobile-friendly, otherwise, it will be too hard to read. Enlist the help of a web designer if you’re unsure of how to approach this endeavor.

Invest in High-Quality Visual Ads

For your ads to be competitive, they must be appealing. Eye-catching ads make people want to know more about the originator. Plus, your visual ads set the tone for your brand. When running native ads, you should always plan to implement aesthetically pleasing content. Whether you hire a professional photographer to get unique shots of your products or use relevant images from free sites like Flickr, ensure that your creative assets are something to be proud of.

Many companies have in-house graphic designers who create unique graphics in the brand’s style. If you have access to this kind of resource, request a few variations of graphics relating to your content that meets the specs for each platform.

Understand Platform Guidelines

Before you start advertising on social media platforms, familiarize yourself with each platform’s resources for advertisers. You’ll find helpful guidelines regarding ad content and the correct specs for optimal results. Failure to follow the rules of the platforms may result in your ad getting suspended, so you need to do your research before spending ad money.

Watch Campaigns Carefully 

Yes, we’ve talked about the importance of monitoring your campaigns. But to truly be successful, you must keep a close eye on progress—sometimes daily. After you’ve run a few ads and optimized your best ads, put more money behind ads that are doing well and turn off ads with low engagement. A good rule of thumb is to run campaigns for at least two weeks, though the results may be obvious within the first week.

The presence of native ads will most likely continue to rise as more and more people turn to online sources for entertainment and solutions. Just like any other marketing endeavor, you can plan your native advertising efforts wisely to maximize profitability. You might wonder if traditional advertising still has a place in the marketing world. Yes, it does, but it is no longer the only option for marketers. The key to knowing what works best for your brand is to try many approaches and see which ones fit your goals best.

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Jill Conway

CopyPress writer

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