There seem to be as many definitions of native advertising as there are entities involved in creating, delivering or commenting on native advertising. At Phunware, we use the definition established by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in its Task Force report The Native Advertising Playbook:
[Native advertising refers to] paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”
In other words, native advertising is paid content that appears within the flow of editorial content and is topically relevant to it. Native advertising is by definition less disruptive and more engaging than standard ad units placed in right rail or leaderboard positions and appeals to consumers in a similar way to the editorial content on a page or in an app.
Why the Concept of Native Advertising Is Confusing
The term native advertising is often used interchangeably with content marketing, sponsored content, brand journalism, custom content, advertorials and other similar concepts. Jay Rosen, who teaches Journalism at NYU, contends that these terms are not the same at all.
Felix Salmon, writing for Reuters, took up Rosen’s call to draw useful distinctions between these closely related terms and developed what he called The Native Matrix. The Native Matrix is a visual representation of different types of earned and paid content categorized according to who writes the content and who publishes it. For example, content written by editorial staff and put out by a publisher is public relations; content written or commissioned by sales staff or an ad agency and published by the brand itself is either sponsored content or native advertising. (Salmon clarifies that “sponsored content is designed to be read [while] native advertising is designed to be shared.”)
What the Best Native Ads Have in Common
That distinction of simple consumption / impressions versus shareability is vital to many commentators’ definitions of native advertising. The best native ads are those that capture consumers’ attention—perhaps even more effectively than the editorial content in which they are embedded—and entertain or inform readers enough to inspire them to actively share the ads with their social networks. The Holy Grail is producing brand content that “goes viral.”
Consumers routinely ignore or actively block banner ads and other forms of display advertising. Conversely, native advertising done well works so fluidly with the page or app content that it is far less likely to trigger the near-automatic ad avoidance strategies that many consumers have adopted as part of their online and mobile behavior.
How to Achieve Effective Native Advertising
To embed native advertising most effectively, the brand and the publisher would ideally work closely together to plan complementary editorial and paid content that will flow smoothly (visually, stylistically and topically) in targeted consumers’ news streams, social media or other content channels.
Other types of effective native advertising simply conform to the typical format of a closed platform, such as Facebook or Twitter, and look like other posts in the users’ streams except for an unobtrusive “sponsored content” label or similar disclosure. Even search advertising can be considered native in the sense that it directly relates to users’ interests and appears alongside organic search results and is therefore a part of the native search experience.
Types of Native Ads
IAB identifies six types of ad units that are most commonly used to achieve native objectives:
- In-feed units appear on-page within the editorial content flow or are linked off-page; paid content relates closely to editorial content.
- Paid search units appear alongside organic search results.
- Recommendations widgets are ad links delivered via “widgets” integrated into the main well of the page but not mimicking the appearance of the editorial content.
- Promoted listings are designed to fit seamlessly into the browsing experience.
- In-ad with native element units are delivered in standard IAB containers placed outside the editorial well but contextually relevant to the page content.
- Custom / “Can’t Be Contained” is any native advertising that does not fit into the above categories or is too platform-specific.
Refer to the IAB Playbook for more in-depth explanations of these types of native advertising and how they fit in a continuum defined by form, function, integration, buying and targeting, and measurement. This kind of analysis helps advertisers, ad networks, platforms, agencies and publishers to “speak a common language” so that stakeholders can negotiate, create and deliver ad units that meet the needs and goals of all the entities involved—including consumers.
Growth of Native Ads
As in-house resources and knowledge continues to grow about this currently niche ad format, Native Ads “will soon see widespread adoption by conventional brands,” predicts Dippak Khurana, co-founder and CEO of data processing company VServe in a recent blog post. In 2015, marketers “will closely emulate and leverage the characteristics of the mobile environment to deliver mobile ads that blend seamlessly with the mobile app and site experience.”
For more mobile insights and trends, see “Top 5 Mobile Marketing Trends to Watch in 2015”