January 15

What Is Native Advertising?

Hang on boys and girls, there’s a new buzzword in town — Native Advertising. Are you familiar with the term? If not, don’t worry. According to our survey fielded yesterday via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ you’re not alone. In fact, based on our results, I think it is safe to say we can all call bullshit on Native Advertising.

The Official Definition of Native Advertising

According to Wikipedia, the definition is:

Native advertising is a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to attract attention by providing valuable content in the context of the user’s experience. Similar conceptually to an advertorial, which is a paid placement attempting to look like an article, a native ad tends to be more obviously an ad while still providing interesting or useful information.[1] The advertiser’s intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and, therefore, increase the likelihood users will click on it.[2]

Clear as mud right? But let’s break this definition down.

A web ADVERTISING method…. providing valuable content in the context of the user’s experience.

Ok, at this point we seem to be talking about something that is a bit different than a regular ad because we’re not talking about “selling” we’re talking about “helping.” Kind of reminds me of Jay Baer’s YOUtility post, where he makes the point (that I completely agree with) Help someone, and you make a customer for life.

So it’s advertising in so far as there is a strategic marketing goal being pursued by a brand or company, but it’s not advertising because the goal of the communication is to blend in with the content because like the content, the intent is to help not sell.

But then we have to consider the rest of the definition….

Similar conceptually to an advertorial, which is a paid placement attempting to look like an article…

Now we have Native Advertising being defined in terms of form over function. Advertorials are definitely ads, they even carry a notation they are ads. The definition goes on to talk about the advertisers’ intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive… which again is focusing on form over function. Lastly, we get the punch line, increase the likelihood users will click on it. So if I’m reading this correctly, a Native Ad is designed to create an immediate action — a click.

But the goal of an article, blog or really any piece of content (well helpful content) is to inform, educate and enlighten. It’s NOT designed to generate a click or a sale. The goal of great content is to be helpful vs create an immediate action that will hopefully lead to a sale.

Examples of Native Advertising

Because Native Ads are the new black in the marketing world these days, there is no shortage of bloggers and media outlets rushing to write about them. Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing World showed us why in his recent post, 3 Critical Content Marketing Trends that Signal Big Industry Changes Ahead, which contained this telling Google Trend Chart.

Content Marketing Search Trends

As Joe points out in his post, Native Advertising has overtaken Custom Publishing and is definitely on the rise recently. So I began to look to see how my fellow marketers are defining Native Advertising.

A post from Gini Dietrich correctly suggests we’re going to hear a lot more about this native ads and that native advertising will change how we create content — which I was totally tracking with but then she says we’re already seeing this via Promoted Posts and Sponsored Tweets. How are Promoted Posts and Sponsored Tweets any different from any other ad? Sure from a format perspective they look like Facebook Status Updates or Tweets, but they’re clearly marked as “paid” and as a user they read as ads in a different suit. She goes on to speak about a ski resort that encourages skiers to tag their Instagram pictures, but to me that’s just User Generated Content. NOTE: In my opinion the difference between UCG and Advertising is the lack of any strategic communication goal for UCG uploads. Just because I tag a picture on Instagram with your Hashtag, doesn’t make it any more persuasive to my friends than if I upload the same photo without the hashtag. In fact, it might even reduce the persuasiveness lest they think I did it to win something. But I digress.

So it seems that Gini’s definition is no more clear than Wikipedia’s.

So I turned to an Ad Age’s piece that actually starts with the words, “What does “native” really mean?” The author goes on to say,

I think the answer lies in defining native advertising in terms of adding value for the customer, versus its medium.

Love it! Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe not. The rest of the post basically makes the case for the author’s product and the view that “ads” should “help” vs “interrupt.” But it never actually defines native advertising.

I hate to admit it, but honestly, the best definition I found was on MashableThe answer: It depends on who you talk to. Native advertising appears to mean different things to different people. Well at least they were honest about it. There is also a nice little discussion of Native Advertising on the Jan 14 installment of the Bean Cast.

And The Research Says Native Advertising Is….

Our research shows the term isn’t very well known despite all the recent hype by bloggers, media outlets and publishers.

80% of respondents said they didn’t know what the term meant.

For those of you playing the home game, we had 225 respondents. More interestingly (at least to me) was the remaining 20%. If a respondent indicated they did know what the term meant, they were asked to define the term. Only 34 out of 47 respondents gave their definition of native advertising. That means 28% of those respondents that said they did know what it meant, refused to define it. Remember, the survey was only TWO QUESTIONS, so I doubt survey fatigue caused this. My hunch is 28% of those folks really didn’t know what Native Advertising meant but they didn’t want to seem uninformed so they clicked YES on question #1. Then when they were asked to “prove it” they bailed.

Even more interesting where the definitions given. A Word Cloud of the Top 12 Words or Phrases our respondents associated with Native Advertising:


Hmmmmm. seems to me they think it’s a new buzz word for branded content advertising.

When we attempted to categorize the responses, 32% of them made reference to Advertorials or Branded Content, including sponsored posts and tweets. 14% defined it as some form of content. And 11% admitted that while they had heard of the term, they didn’t actually know what it meant.

How I Define Native Advertising

As I’ve worked my way though this post, I’ve been asking myself how I’d define it. Given that no truly universal definition exists, why don’t you and I create one. I’ll go first and then you add your thoughts in the comments. Hopefully, we’ll cobble together a succinct working definition that we can all agree to use.

When I think of native advertising I think about content brought to you buy a brand. But not just any content, like a traditional sponsorship. No, I’m thinking content that is directly related to the brand and completely relevant to you. So in my mind, the brand is acting like a campfire — bringing you and the content together without getting in the way. This doesn’t mean the content is unbranded, on the contrary, I think the brand can be clearly visible and it still works. The closest thing in my own portfolio would have to be my work with Tabasco and Mardi Gras in 2010. Unfortunately, the site is no longer live, but you can read about it in this Ad Age article and here is a screenshot of the home page.


As you can see, the brand was front and center. We even included it in the actual content with video of our krewe cooking with Tabasco, B-Roll shot in front of the Sheraton New Orleans and an impromptu cheesecake tasting compliments of Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro — all sponsors of the project. In each case, the brands were relevant and responsible for bringing content our viewers valued and appreciated.

If you’re a brand that would like to see how well it worked (think case study with full statistics) contact me and we’ll schedule a presentation.

So now I’ve given you my definition and an example of how I’d define Native Advertising. It’s your turn. Tell us how you’d define it.

Oh and I have a special PRIZE for anyone who can correctly identify the kid featured in the Ad Age article.

Related Posts You May Like...

Painless Prospecting - the sales approach for people who hate traditional sales prospecting

Don't miss the next great article 

Subscribe today to get the best Painless Prospecting content delivered directly to your inbox.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Tom

    I am not necessarily shocked by these results as this new buzzword Native Advertising does not really seem to be getting much attention … so far. I think too many do not know enough about it or how it works so it is not something most have on the top of their list to seek out and learn today!

    Buzz words – isn’t that so last year? Native Advertising seems like a term that is made up by people who want to create a new type of platform or something of the like to try and monetize. Problem is that not enough are understanding nor talking about it to make it even buzz worthy!

    Photo is your oldest son.

    1. Suzanne,

      Well you win the prize for guessing correctly!

      As for Native Advertising, agree — publishing driven buzzword to make a digital advertorial seem new again. Still think there is an opp for certain types of brand/content partnerships — not sure if they need a special name or not, but certainly we have not yet scratched the surface of how brands and content can intermingle to create digital conversations with customers.

  2. Tom,

    A very timely post, especially considering the furor over The Atlantic’s Church of Scientology “article/ad/content”. Whatever the semantics, advertisers must weigh the risk in cloaking their material. If it’s good advertising, i.e., engaging, informative and useful, it needn’t hide behind a mask.

    1. Yes, I saw today that The Atlantic had offered an apology already. Still not sure why brands feel the need to try and trick people and publishers think it is ok to try and cloak an ad as an article.

      I mean, if it is truly helpful content, won’t consumers like/consume it whether it’s an ad or article?

  3. Tom I love that you did the survey to get some actual results. This is off-topic a bit, but extending past content, you can also get into creating events. Red Bull does a wonderful job with this in sponsoring ‘extreme sports’ events and being heavily involved in The X Games and other events, even owning teams.

    I remember a couple of years ago I talked to Greg Cordell at Brains on Fire about this and he said that one thing they always focus on with clients is ‘sponsor the love’. Find out what it is that your customers LOVE about your brand, and sponsor events that bring these people together around a shared interest or love.

    1. Mack,

      Totally agree… love the Sponsor LOVE POV. I’m thinking that if a brand took this approach, maybe combined it with the tactics you’ll be discussing in Think Like a Rockstar — they’d have a really valuable long-term marketing play on their hands. Think the trick will be seeing if they can have the patience to sit back and let the community, revenue and ROI surface though.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Want to chat?

Is there something we could help you with? Maybe a topic you wish we'd cover or maybe you have a specific challenge you'd like us help you with?