Native Advertising: What it is and how to implement it

The spring of 2012 marked the birth, or should I say “rebirth” of the native advertising debate.

You see, a lot is riding on the way online advertising will be executed in the coming years.  Billions of dollars, oodles of brownie points for the marketing intelligentsia, and unlimited prestige for those who make the right call.

But I digress…

Defining Native Advertising

For us mere mortals, a useful working definition of native advertising (NA) would help, so here goes:

Native advertising is an advertising tactic that emphasizes value-added, relevant content without denying its traffic-generating and monetizing goals or interfering with the overall user experience.

As banners, pre-roll video and pop-up ads delivery fewer and fewer clicks and even less genuine prospects for businesses, more marketers are looking to native advertising as the new savior.  Apparently, it is catching on, as some of the best known native advertising examples come from the “Who’s Who” of the Internet:

  • Sponsored Stories or Suggested Pages (Facebook)
  • Promoted Videos (WordPress blogs)
  • Promoted Tweets (Twitter)
  • Paid Discovery (StumbleUpon)

Open versus Closed Native Advertising

While the current fascination with native advertising seems entirely organic in nature, there is some structure taking hold.  Many large and better known websites (, as well as iTunes are the best examples of closed native advertising. i.e. the creation, integration, and promotion of content within a specific platform only.

On the other hand, there are a growing number of social websites (e.g. StumbleUpon) that are open, since their advertising model allows users to discover outside content from websites like YouTube while being promoted through native ads.

How radical is Native Advertising, really?

Native advertising can have many forms: sponsored ads, video, interactive graphics, photo montages, web films.  On the surface, it appears all encompassing, well-suited to the Internet, and a prime alternative to traditional display (“In your face”) web advertising.

Not surprisingly, many skeptics and “Madison Avenue” traditionalists hold the view that there is nothing special about native advertising.  It’s merely a rehash of how things have been done in ad circles for generations, albeit without the modern digital orientation.

Still, a number of respected organizations like Forbes, Mashable, and TechCrunch have conducted surveys indicating potential double digit growth in native advertising buys in 2013 over 2012.  It also seems to be a popular marketing tool amongst venture capitalists, angel donors, and other looking to take advantage of this cutting edge marketing option.[1]

What’s NA’s Relationship with Public Relations (PR)?

It appears that promotion and native advertising go hand-in-hand within the marketing lexicon.  If it can be promoted (e.g. videos, websites, listings, music playlists, images), it can be part of an advertiser’s NA strategy.   Doesn’t that sound like PR?  Being non-intrusive and well-integrated in the user’s trusted space is what public relations are about.  Therefore, can we call native advertising just the digital form of PR?


Making native advertising work for your organization demands strategies worthy of the ever-changing, competitive online business world that now exists.  A winning strategy involves many elements, so just in case you are not a marketing Einstein yet (!) take stock of some tried and true tactics:

  • If you are part of a medium to large-size organization, thoroughly review your long-term web advertising strategy with the communications team.
  • Don’t be afraid to research and hire freelance journalists, bloggers, photographers and others to make your native ad stand out – in a gentle manner, of course.
  • Consult with and engage top talent from outside your “normal” peer group: content specialists, public relations agencies, etc. that can help you think outside the box.

For further reading: Dan Greenberg, “A Framework for the $10B+ Native Advertising Market.”,, 30 June 12, Accessed 04 Apr 13.

[1] Solve Media Blog, INFOGRAPHIC: Native Advertising in Context. Retrieved 04 Apr 13.