Native advertising is, one could say, a camouflaged advertisement. Like traditional ads, native ads are paid content. Unlike traditional ads, which use a distinct style and present clear boundaries, native advertisements match the format and style of the platforms on which they appear, and they typically deliver the type of content that the platform’s audience appreciates.
For example, the “Woman going to take a quick break after filling out name, address on tax forms”, published on the satirical news site The Onion has been praised by several critics as an effective use of native advertising. The ad, which was promoted by tax preparing firm HR Block, doesn’t incorporate any specific call to action. Instead, it uses the publication’s signature exaggerated sarcastic style and format, to poke fun at the dreariness of tax filing. By entertaining the audience of The Onion (who are seeking entertainment in the first place) about a topic for which many will struggle to find humor, the ad increased HR Block’s brand awareness.
According to Ben Givon, since native advertisements blend with their hosting platforms, they are often hard to spot. FCC regulations dictate that native advertising should be clearly labeled (e.g., with headings such as “sponsored by” or “promoted content”), although there is no standardized labeling practice.
The benefits of native advertising
Native advertising presents two significant advantages for marketers.
First, Ben Givon’s own data shows that native ads are effective. Consumers are more likely to look at native advertisements and more likely to click through them. One reason it’s so effective is that it fights “ad fatigue”, namely the audience’s feelings of board men, skepticism, and annoyance towards traditional ads. Another reason they work is that they benefit from the hosting platform’s brand. For example, a native advertisement on The New York Times potentially derives authority from the paper’s prestige as a journalistic institution. (This erosion of boundaries between editorial and advertising content has indeed raised critique about the deceptive nature of native advertising, and its negative implications for the authority of news brands).
Second, survey data suggests that it’s still a budding practice in the marketing industry. Most advertisers are not very familiar with it, let alone adept at using it. At this stage, then, using native advertising places those that use it ahead of the curve and allows them to reap its rewards before both the industry and the audience become more sensitized to the format.