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Can Someone Please Explain What Native Advertising Is?

Published: June 9, 2014

Author: Ryan Larkin

For such a commonly used term in the digital advertising space, it’s amazing how little people actually know about native advertising. Clients and advertisers alike seem to have cursory knowledge of its existence, but when prodded about the subject they tend to dance around the topic, seemingly never quite confident enough to give a solid definition.
Well, according to Wikipedia:
Native advertising is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. The advertiser’s intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and thus increase the likelihood users will click on it.”
Wow, well that doesn’t seem so difficult to define, does it? In fact, according to this definition, paid search is indeed a form of native advertising. Search engines pioneered this idea years ago. The look and feel of the ads matches the users’ experience with the “organic” search results, making the ads seem to occur naturally. (Whether or not this should be considered legal is a question our CEO, David Rodnitzky, posed on MarketingLand.)
So what about other forms of native advertising? One of the bigger mediums utilizing native ads is Facebook. There are a couple of different native ads that occur within Facebook: Sponsored Stories & Promoted Posts. Without getting too into the targeting aspects of how these ads operate, they basically will both appear in the Facebook News Feed with a “natural” look (imitating the format of something that a connection may have shared). Users of Facebook trust their connections and will typically trust the content their connections share. When one of these ads appears, it mirrors that “shared” format, so while the user may or may not be aware that it’s not shared, the look and feel of the ad makes it seem more trustworthy and thus, more appealing for engagement.
Facebook native ad example:
fb native ad
Native ads are also making appearances contextually. Publishers & advertisers are becoming keener to the idea that consumers will digest information on a website more easily if it fits the site’s look and feel.
Contextual native ad example:
contextual native ad
The concept is exactly the same as with the native ads in Facebook: give the ad a more organic, natural look. The user sees this and (unless he/she is paying attention to the fine print above) assumes it’s the publisher’s content. The user is familiar with the publisher; the user trusts the publisher; and if the ad is targeted correctly, the chances of the user interacting with the ad is much higher.
While native ads have been around since basically the dawn of internet marketing, we’re just now seeing a push towards its application in more channels. Facebook and companies like Outbrain have seemingly taken the lead in this regard, but platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, and even SnapChat have huge potential of hosting native ads. With this information and the abundance of mediums already hosting native ads, it is becomingly increasingly important for digital marketers to understand what native ads are and how they’re used to take advantage of future opportunities. Or risk asking around in hopes that someone can explain it to them.

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