What is native advertising?

What is native advertising anyway

The quality and scalability of native advertising means it is filling the gap between brand publishing and banner adverts

In the new world of content – the world where all organisations get to produce it – jargon is plentiful. Phrases such as corporate journalism, vendor content, brand publishing and custom content are everywhere.

But where does native advertising play in this mix?

Put simply, native advertising is a sub-set of the catch-all content marketing, meaning the practice of using content to build trust and engagement with would-be customers.

Native advertising can be a promoted tweet on Twitter, suggested post on Facebook or one of those full-page ads between Flipboard pages, but more commonly it is about how brands now work with online publications to reach people.

They’ve long done so, of course, through display advertisements and various other promotions.

The difference between display ads online – the square MPU units, leaderboards that straddle the top of pages and several other industry-standard formats – and native ads is that the latter are in the flow of editorial content.

Those publications that are pioneering native ads are usually good at making sure the quality of the content is high. They won’t just commission content (for money, we should make clear), but work with individual writers or marketers so that it feeds an audience need.

And it seems to be working. According to research from IPG media lab, native ads are viewed for the same amount of time as editorial content and is much more likely to be shared than a banner ad (32% versus 19% of respondents said they would do so).

But isn’t sponsored content the same thing? To many people, yes, they’re interchangeable. However, Reuters’ Felix Salmon has sketched out what he calls the native matrix as he has tried to formalise what different terms mean.

The difference between sponsored content and native ads, he contends, is that “native content tends to aspire more to going viral” and generally being shared more.

When a publication such as BuzzFeed works with a brand like Virgin Mobile it isn’t just to create great native content that its loyal readers see – it is with a view to it going viral and being seen all over the web. Display advertising could never do that. Or at least each time a banner is served, for example, there is an incremental cost to the advertiser.

So whether a revenue stream for a social network or native to an online publisher’s content stream, native ads answer a very important criticism that may yet pop much of the current content marketing bubble: how does it scale?

Because although many of us think of the banner ad as ineffectual, limiting and dated they are increasingly automated at scale. The ad tech business can tell you that.

So between the choice of brand publishing that is yet to scale well enough and dated ad formats that do, native advertising, for many, is the smart play.

Tony Hallett is a director at Collective Content (UK)

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