Hyped as one of 2014’s biggest media trends, native advertising is paid for content using advertising formats. Ad units are distributed throughout editorial content by the publisher and seek to engage audiences by relaying content relevant to the editorial. It is not intended to trick the readers into thinking the ad’s a part of the advertorial, but it seeks to blend ads and editorial seamlessly.

Native advertising has been dubbed the media business’s latest obsession. And viewed in the context of the  declining effectiveness of online display advertising, it’s not hard to see why.

Clickthrough rates for online native adverts are much higher than traditional online advertising. According to native advertising ad platform, ShareThrough, consumers looked at native ads 52% more frequently than display ads.

Many brands see native advertising as an opportunity to create content that readers are more likely to engage with than traditional online advertising, which explains why projected spend is increasing. A recent eMarketer  report forecasts marketers will spend $4.3 billion on native advertising in 2015, a 34 percent increase from 2014. The figure is expected to double to reach $8.8 billion by 2018.

Native advertising falls under the content marketing banner and varies according to company, platform and channel used. But it is content that is automated, matched to the editorial content, and it is typically labelled  as promotional or sponsored content within the ad unit. It doesn’t only appear on news publishing sites, it can  appear on social networks in several different guises, including:

  • promoted Tweets, trends and people
  • promoted stories
  • promoted posts

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What does it mean to the industry?

The arrival of native advertising is changing the relationship between brands, agencies and publishers. With publishers setting up their own divisions to create branded content, some traditional advertising agencies  are potentially being taken out of the equation when it comes to advertising in the traditional print media.

How is native advertising different to content marketing and advertorials?

The definition of native advertising is contested but it can be defined as ‘paid for’ content that closely  integrates with the medium where it’s appearing. It must be clearly labelled as originating from the  advertiser as it is illegal for any form of advertising to not maintain transparency. Native advertisements  align with the publication or site’s established editorial style and tone, and also provides the kind of information that the publication’s audience typically expects.

These qualities are what make native advertisements difficult to spot, as they often blend in with the  ‘organic’ content extremely well.

Who are the players in the native advertising space?

The marketplace is a mishmash of:

  • Advertising/digital marketing agencies (e.g. Beeby Clark+Meyler)
  • Publishers (such as BuzzFeed and the New York Times)
  • Social networking sites (such as Twitter and Facebook)
  • Brands (such as General Electric and SAP)
  • Ad tech providers (such as ShareThrough and Outbrain)

Who is getting involved?

Publishers, brands, agencies and an increasing number of startups have seized upon the opportunities presented by native advertising and content marketing more generally. In the face of declining digital  revenues, publishers have jumped at the opportunity to get on board. Publishers are setting up agencies to rival the advertising agencies. BuzzFeed makes the channel, the content, and the ads.

Which publishers are involved?

The US Federal Trade Commission notes that 73 percent of online publishers currently offer native advertising opportunities.

Online publishers from BuzzFeed, Upworthy and Yahoo to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are offering native advertising to clients.

100 percent of BuzzFeed’s revenue comes from branded content. Already, most of BuzzFeed’s revenue is  derived from BuzzFeed Creative, the company’s 75-person unit dedicated to creating for brands custom  video and list-style advertising content that looks similar to its own editorial content.

  • Forbes has a ‘brand newsroom’.
  • The Wall Street Journal has WSJ Custom Studios, its native advertising division.
  • The New York Times has T Brand studio, its native advertising unit.
  • The Guardian has Guardian Labs, a ‘branded content and innovation agency’.
  • Time Inc has just started a native

Which brands are doing it?

Corporate titans such as Ford, HP, Kimberly-Clark and General Electric have all dabbled in native advertising in 2015. 

  • General Electric sponsored 10 Lifechanging Ways To Make Your Day More Efficient (by GE) in BuzzFeed.
  • Chevron partnered with The Atlantic.
  • Dennis Publishing has launched a range of native advertising placements with brands including Barclays, HP and Castrol.
  • Diageo is partnering with The Guardian’s branded content division to create and host ads based on the publisher’s most popular lifestyle articles.

Have there been success stories?

The New York Times has succeeded with a series of attention-grabbing sponsored posts.

Using both native ad-units and traditional online banner ads on the homepage they drove people to the url, where they found arguably its most famous narrative article on women’s prisons  for Netflix’s ‘Orange is the New Black’. The article was illustrated and accompanied by audio clips, a  slideshow and graphics. It was also widely read: the campaign got more than 145,000 impressions, according to Nudge.

Beeby Clark+Meyler led a native advertising campaign for GE which reached 5.1 million people and resulted in 416,000 clickthroughs and a clickthrough rate of over 8 percent.

Where do the traditional advertising agencies stand in relation to native advertising?

Native advertising currently accounts for 9.2 percent of the total digital display spend by UK agencies, but that figure is estimated to reach 15 percent by 2015, according to a report by Far Partners. The 17 percent of agencies that don’t yet incorporate native advertising into their media plans, stated that they are  planning to do so.

Is this a threat to advertising agencies?

Traditional publishers don’t always have to be involved. There are still plenty of opportunities from native  social adverts. Moreover, even where the client is hiring someone from a brand newsroom, they may still  choose an agency to handle that relationship with the publisher.

Are there opportunities for B2B?

Absolutely. Forbes’ sponsored content programme for German software company SAP drove 300,000 page views from five sponsored articles. Then there are the distribution options, which allow B2B clients to craft highly targeted campaigns. LinkedIn is now the most popular social distribution channel among B2B  marketers and it enables businesses to promote sponsored content, including text, video and  presentations.

And what about the controversy?

Native advertising has generated controversy at some prestigious newspapers. The principle of the  separation of church and state has governed the editorial practices at newspapers since the dawn of  newspaper printing. Simply put, journalists wrote editorial and advertisers paid for adverts. And it was  relatively obvious to readers what was promotional and what wasn’t.

It is also worth noting that ambiguity can also have a knock-on effect for the audience relations with the  brand. Evidence shows that people’s trust can reduce if the origin of the content is unclear.

But arguably, there has always been a grey area where promotional content is concerned. Paid for  advertorials, which are written in a publication’s house style and are designed to bridge the gap between an  advert and an article, have been gradually undermining the distinction for many decades.

What are the opportunities for native advertising?

The real opportunity comes in producing rich creative engaging content that will be popular with a publication’s audience. Native advertising presents an opportunity for innovative digital storytelling.

Expect to see more opportunities on mobiles as well, as mobile native advertising takes off.

Facebook’s sponsored posts have already proven to be effective on mobiles and expect more app makers to jump on the bandwagon. Dating app Tinder announced it was poised to introduce native advertising on a recent earnings call. Twitter’s senior management also clearly sees potential. It recently acquired Namo Media, a company that offers native advertising for mobile apps.


This format is still developing and with it is the ecosystem. As it continues to evolve it presents opportunities for creative storytelling by combining strong editorial nous with the latest digital storytelling  techniques, but only if there is trust for the brand, no sales pitch and very clear transparency over where the content is from.