Native Advertising

Native Advertising: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

The Internet marketing crowd is buzzing with a different way to advertise to viewers. This not so new advertising method is labeled “Native Advertising”.

Everyone is talking about it like it’s brand a new phenomenon. Little do they know that native ads have been around since the 1900s.

In fact, I bet you see native ads all the time and just don’t recognize them as ads at all. Did I just pique your curiosity?

Well then, keep reading and discover what native ads are, a little history about them, and why the ad format has moved to the Internet with such popularity.

I’ll also tell you about the different types of native ads and show you some great examples of them.

Let’s start off by discussing exactly what native ads are.

What Are Native Ads?

You could ask 100 native advertising experts about native ads. And you’ll get 100 slightly different definitions.

If you listen carefully to each definition you hear, you will notice that they almost all have a core definition buried in there somewhere.

That core definition of what native ads goes something like this: Native ads are a form of advertising that matches and blends in with the medium it appears on. Ads use the same form as the content contained in the medium. For example, an ad can be a written article in the same format of editorial articles appearing in a magazine or on a website.

Simple, right? Keep reading for an even better understanding of what native ads are and how you can benefit from using them properly. By the way, here’s a list of some of the best native ad networks out there in case you were looking for that information.

Let’s start with a little journey through native ad history.

Also read: Guide to Creating and Running Native Ads in Google Ad Manager

A Brief History of Native Ads

Native advertising started a long time ago before the Internet was even around. In fact, it actually started before even the television was invented.

During my research, I discovered examples of its use as far back as the 1910s.

In 1914, Theodore MacManus wrote “The Penalty of Leadership” promoting Cadillacs. He published the ad in The Saturday Evening Post.

There could possible even be earlier examples of native ads, but this is the oldest I found. You can see a copy of this native advertisement here.

Native Ads Cadillac

So as you see, native advertising is far from new. Let’s briefly explore the history of native ads up to the present time.

Through the 1920s and 1930s native advertising expanded into radio. Companies and brands sponsored sports and serial broadcasts as well as other forms of radio.

Now we move into the 1940s and 1950s, when television began to get popular. Now brands were sponsoring TV shows to promote their products and services. Proctor & Gamble sponsored drama series to promote their soap. This is where the term “soap opera” was coined.

By 1960s and 1970s, television was in full swing and short commercials keyed to the television shows were being inserted into the programming.

In the 1980s the infomercial was born. Now we have full length shows where the content is the product being sold.

Let’s move on to the 1990s when the Internet started to get popular. Search engines were beginning to battle for supremacy. Paid search placement began to emerge. Now companies and brands were paying to have their search listing appear at the top of the search results.

In the 2010s, sponsored full length content hits the scene. Sites like BuzzFeed start selling full length editorial spots to companies and brands.

Later, online news and magazine sites joined in on the native advertising craze.

Now that you know a little of the history of native ads, let’s move on to why they have become so popular on the Internet.

Why Native Ads Are Becoming Popular Online

Native ads are becoming more and more popular with advertisers due to several developments in human behavior brought on by past advertising methods and ever shrinking attention spans.

Viewers have been so inundated with ad banners that now they just mentally block them out. They are becoming blind to them, this phenomenon is aptly called banner blindness.

Some Internet users even run browser plug-ins that remove all the banner advertising from the pages they view. Advertisers are becoming aware of this and are tired of throwing advertising dollars away.

Also the human attention span has become smaller and smaller over the decades, especially since the advent of the Internet. Advertisers are quickly learning that they only have seconds to grab the attention of a person and have to fight to keep it.

Native advertising aims, and in some cases, effectively manages to solves the above problems. It grabs readers’ attention and gets the advertising message over to them.

Common Types of Native Ads

The term “native ad” refers to a large and ever expanding list of advertisement formats and delivery methods. Here is a list of the current most common types you will run into.

In Feed Ad Units: These are native ads that appear in a sites content area. They can be sponsored articles as well as ads designed to appear to be articles and match the content surrounding it.

Search Ads: These are ads that appear at the top of search engine results that appear similar to other results being displayed. The most popular search ads are Google AdWords and Bing Ads.

Recommendation Widgets: When reading an article, or viewing other content, you will sometimes see near the content a section with links to related content and pages. These are usually paid advertising spots that guide the visitor to other sites and advertising.

Promoted Listings: These type of ads usually appear on e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay. They are sponsored product listings that have been paid for by the seller or manufacturer. They appear just like other product listings but they appear at the top of listings, recommended product listings and other preferred positions.

In-Ad: Contextual text ads like Google AdSense fall in this category of native ads. They are ads that contain advertising related to the content on the page it appears or is related in some way.

There are of course many more forms of native ad formats, but the ones discussed above are the most popular types.

Examples of Native Ads

Sometimes the best way to understand something is to take a look at it. So let’s do just that. Let’s take a look at some actual native ads.


When viewing the main page of BuzzFeed look for the yellow “promoted by” boxes. These are paid native ad listings.

Buzzfeed native ads

New York Times

This is a paid post to increase Dell’s brand recognition.

NYTimes native ad

Forbes Magazine Cover

This cover of Forbes magazine created a big row within the media and advertising industry. Some thought that editorial integrity was being compromised at the hand of advertisers.

Can you spot the ad? It’s the box that says Fidelity Voice: Revving Up Your Retirement.

forbes-magazine-cover native ad


Go scroll through your news feed on Facebook. Notice the sponsored posts that appear directly in your news feed? These are also native ads.

FB native ads


When you search on Google did you notice the top few search results are actually paid for placements? These are prime examples of in-search contextual native ads.

google native ads

If you want to check out even more examples of native advertising, Hubspot compiled a list of them, and Wordstream put together a post on the five best and worst native ads.

Can Native Ads Go too Far?

Many forms of native ads blend in so well with the surrounding content and appear as articles instead of ads to many readers. This can and does cause some confusion and trust issues.

A reader could think he is reading an article or review by a third party, when in reality he is reading an ad written by the seller of the product.

So, the reader is thinking he is reading an unbiased opinion about a product when he is actually reading a highly biased opinion. See what I am getting at?

With the rise in popularity with native ads, the blur between content and advertisements is becoming greater.

This blurring raises the need for proper disclosure, so a reader understands that he is in fact reading an ad or sponsored content.

Simply labeling the native ad with a label such as “Advertisement”, “Sponsored”, “Suggested Post”, “Sponsored By” or “Presented By” could easily disclose to the reader that he is reading a paid advertisement without being intrusive.

Without proper disclosure a native ad could move into the realm of deception.

Since native advertising can be quite profitable, you will always see some marketers pushing the envelope. Just be careful that you don’t cross that fine line.

The Profitability of Native Ads

Are native ads profitable? Can they make you a good return on your investment? Can they bring in more money than other forms of advertising? Let’s take a look at some native ad case studies and see how they did.

This first case study is about how Digital Marketer got a 259% ROI using native advertising to sell their blog training program.

The second case study is a about using Twitter promoted tweets to send traffic. These paid tweets look like any other tweet. They got a 198% ROI.

So yes, although mileage may vary on a case-by-case basis, studies and empirical data show that native ads can be quite profitable indeed.


By now, you should have a pretty good grasp of what native ads are. We’ve covered what native ads are, their history, and why the ad format moved to the Internet.

We also went over the common native ad types and saw examples of actual native ads. We then raised the question of whether native ads could go too far.

The bottom line is that native ads work well because they blend into the content around them. A good native ad actually provides useful content or leads the viewer to additional information about the content they are exploring.

A great native ad can entertain and inform as well as sell or bring brand recognition.

The key to writing and designing a successful native ad is to know your audience and the medium the native ad will appear within.