The Essential Guide to Native Advertising: Everything You Need to Know

Native advertising is a paid advertisement that matches the form and function of the environment it is placed in. It blends advertising with editorial formats to give the consumer a more fluid and organic transition between ads and publisher-produced content. At it’s best, a native ad conveys a clear message — informing and/or entertaining the reader — and makes a memorable impression.

What is Native Advertising?

Native Ad Formats

Native advertising comes in multiple formats. For some, the native format can be stretched as far as search ads, but for practical purposes this is more confusing than helpful.

Advertisers and publishers widely consider three formats to fall in the native category.

  1. Sponsored Content
  2. Native Display Ads
  3. Native Social Ads

Native Advertising Formats

Sponsored Content

Sponsored content is the most premium of the native advertising formats. This can be articles, videos, infographics, whitepapers — whatever is considered a content norm for the host publisher.

Sponsored content can be separated into two distinct categories: branded content produced in concert with a publisher’s editorial or creative teams and original content for the publisher produced by the brand.

Tribune Media South Florida generates approximately 25% of our digital advertising revenue from sponsored content. As a tri-state focused local news and entertainment side, we enable advertisers to sponsor articles and videos that use the same editorial tone of Tribune Media South Florida’s original content.


Across town, the New York Times has also made a major commitment to sponsored content.

The New York Times launched sponsored stories early in 2014. One of their first stories was sponsored by Netflix to promote the second season of “Orange Is The New Black”. The story explored the life of female inmates in the New York Times signature long-form journalistic voice. The articles includes three videos, custom illustrations, infographics, a photo gallery and audio sidebars.

New York Times Sponsored Ad for Netflix Orange is the New Black

Native Display Ads

Native display ads organically embed ad units within the flow of original editorial content on the publishers site. Most major publishers have these ad units incorporated into their site design.

For example, on’s page design on our homepage and news verticals — in which stories are arranged in the form of a grid — paid ads are mixed in with organic content.

What is a Native Display Ad

In the case of, native display ads link to an article hosted on our news site. In other cases, these ads link out to external sites.

Native display ads mimic the style and tone of the organic content that surrounds it. There is little to no contrast between the ad and the content.

Native Social Ads

You may be surprised that social is considered part of native advertising. Social is at present the dominant force in native ads.

What is a social native ad

According to BI Intelligence estimates, social native ads revenue will be over $12 billion in 2018.

Facebook and Twitter were the first platforms to give marketers the ability to advertise natively. Social native ads have the same form and function as organic posts. For example, on Facebook, like a regular brand post, ads can be liked, shared and commented on.

Facebook also has the most robust and accessible native ad targeting allowing marketers to segment by geographic, interests, behaviors. Facebook also features the ability to create custom audiences that can be targeted or excluded depending on your goals.  

The magic of social native advertising is the ability to earn media impressions and engagement based on the quality of your ad and the understanding of your target audience. Marketers can see their paid reach multiply through post engagement and the generation of shares.

Based on the number of organic interactions on a post, Socialbakers recorded that if a post received over 5,000 organic interactions, the average number of impressions was 86.6x higher when promoted versus just organically posted.

A Mobile Performer

The mobile environment is particularly suited to native advertising. Advertising on mobile must consider the challenges of a smaller screen and the intimate nature of the contact with the consumer. The non-interruptive nature of native and the focus on adding value rather than stealing attention means that native ads perform better.

Native ads see higher click-through rates (CTRs) than traditional banner ads across all platforms but mobile yields the greatest gains. Mobile native ads see CTRs 2x – 5x the rate of mobile banner ads.

Mobile native outperforms desktop native CTRs by 2x.  Although desktop native under-performs mobile, desktop native still outperforms non-native units.

Native Advertising Need To Feel Native

As one of the hottest advertising methods in digital, more advertisers are spending in native. But native advertising has a problem. That problem is content. Content that is uninteresting, not mindful of the needs and expectations of the consumer and distribution of that content with publishers that do not fit the audience it is intended for.

A well-known example of bad native advertising is the Atlantic’s sponsored post expounding Scientology’s “Milestone Year” but there are many more examples found across the web everyday. A study by consumer research group CivicScience describes a viewing public that is increasingly worried about the integrity of journalism.

In order to maximize the value your brand will receive from native advertising, the content must in turn provide value. You need to inform, educate and/or entertain the consumer in effect earning their attention. Brands and publishers need to work together to do this. Metrics show audiences click on and share great content, whether it is original content from a publisher or if it is native advertising.

Paid versus Owned?

If your brand is spending time and resources to create content that provides real value for your audience, it begs the question “Shouldn’t this content live on your own site?”

Sponsored content, particularly when done well, does take time, it does take resources, and it can be more expensive to run. Increasingly, brands are concentrating on content marketing for their owned media channels — their website, their social and their email lists. This strategy is a long-term one. Instead of renting an audience through a publisher, brands are building relationships with their consumers that give them the ability to re-engage at a later date easily and cost-effectively. Brands like Red Bull and GoPro are doing this and doing this well.

It’s best to think of native advertising and sponsored content as a subset of an overall robust content marketing strategy.

Reach Targeted Audiences Quickly

Working with established publishers allows your brand to reach an engaged and targeted audience quickly and relatively cost-effectively. One only needs to look to the popularity of native social ads to justify the continuation of investment in “rented” audiences.

Fertile Testing Ground

Sponsored content is also a low-risk testing ground for large-scale content marketing initiatives. Before your brand undertakes projects that will require significant commitments from your marketing and sales organizations, test that content with a publisher that matches the audience you’re trying to build. You’ll gain insights into how your audience will react to your content with actionable data provided by the publisher or network.

The Bottom Line

Advertisers and publishers are committing significant dollars to native advertising and are on track to continue for the foreseeable future. Social native ads dominate the native advertising ecosystem; however, native display ads are gaining in popularity with advertisers as more and more publishers make these ad units available. Sponsored content will also continue to gain momentum. Native advertising empowers marketers to connect with their audiences on a more intimate level, adding value to their lives in the form of entertain or information. Advertisers and publishers need to work together to create a quality experience of these ads as we move through 2016 and beyond.