Native advertising is a great term, I truly love it; however, in the same way it became fashionable to call yourself an entrepreneur because you're "starting a company", the term "native advertising" has lost a bit of its luster as folks have started to use it more and more broadly to define any type of ad that is non-standard.
These days, everything from one-off/custom ads to traditional (paid for) sponsored posts are being called "native ads". Let's be clear: native and custom are very different animals. To us, "native" means scale — the same way that the native ad format which is the sponsored pay-per-click ad listings in Google (and other) search results is native. The same way that Facebook Sponsored Stories are native... the same way that StumbleUpon's paid discovery is native... and the same way that Twitter's Promoted Tweets are native.
All four of the quick examples above mean "native" to us because:
- They are native to the platform in which they are being displayed
- They have massive scale
Scale is the most common piece that is missing from the haphazard use of "native advertising" these days. It's also the most important thing in defining what is truly a native ad. So, let's see if we can offer native advertising a proper definition:
A native ad is an ad that fits in with the existing user experience, and is available for advertisers to purchase at scale. It has similar (if not identical) attributes of the content that surrounds it, and it is clearly marked as "promoted" or "sponsored".
That is the simplest definition that I can provide. I also believe the Wikipedia definition of "native advertising" really misses the mark, it reads (emphasis mine):
One form of native advertising, publisher-produced brand content, is similar in concept to a traditional advertorial, which is a paid placement attempting to look like an article. A native ad tends to be more obviously an ad than most advertorials. Link
No, no, no... NO, NO! An advertorial is NOT a native ad, it's a SPONSORED POST! These things have existed forever. Let's be clear: a sponsored post is not a native ad. A native ad is purchased at scale. A sponsored post is a unique piece of content written specifically for a specific publication. They will never be sold at scale, because it would be silly to have the same advertorial across 10,000 websites. Think I'm wrong? Just ask the Washington Post if they will put a sponsored post on their site that is also on the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
A sponsored post is NOT a native ad.
The definition goes on to say:
The advertiser's intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and thus increase the likelihood users will click on it.
Again, wrong. That whole point is for the ad to be less intrusive because it's format is consistent with the existing user experience, not because we're trying to trick users into clicking on ads! Like any kind of advertising that aims to trick people in exchange for better performance, it would result in short-lived success. Furthermore, just because an ad is less intrusive does not mean the user is more likely to click on it.
Promoted ads (ahem, native ads), should be clearly marked as paid for. Users will get used to this — I'd even argue they are already used to this.
Again, a native ad is an ad that fits in with the existing user experience, and is available for advertisers to purchase at scale. It has similar (if not identical) attributes of the content that surrounds it, and it is clearly marked as "promoted" or "sponsored".