Book Masterclass

Formats and Platforms for Native Advertising

By Adam Villaume, Journalist and Copywriter at Brand Movers
May 31, 2019

What types and formats of native advertising exist? When should you be using each type? And what platforms can help you get your message in front of the right audience? Buckle up and read along, we've got your answers here.

So, native advertising is a way to reach out to an audience in an unobtrusive way that looks and reads as the surrounding content and succeeds in building trust, brand awareness, generate leads and more.

Sounds great! Now how do you do that? And what formats and platforms should you be using for your native advertising efforts? 

If your answer begins with a variation of “I think it has something to do with…”, then you might want to read along because we are about to take you on a guided tour of the “how” of native advertising.

The tour begins with the formats of native ads, dictated by the places where you can publish your content. We’ll discuss the three core formats that dominate native ads online and how they perform on desktop computers and mobile devices.

Next, the tour will take you past the platforms that help you get your content in front of the right people. And, finally, we’ll provide you a parting gift, in the form of a guide to creating your own native advertising strategy.

Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.

What are the best native advertising formats?


The short - and quite annoying - answer to the question is, “it depends”. Your business may be able to reach the most relevant target group, using formats that would make other companies miss the mark.

If you have your own data on how different formats perform for your business, it might be wise to trust that, over someone else’s list of best practices.

There are, however, some general insights you probably should consider, when planning your next native advertising campaign.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at the available formats for native ads.

What formats are available?

The different native ads can be divided into three core types, as presented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in their latest native advertising playbook:

  • In-feed, also referred to as in-content
  • Content recommendation ads, available through widgets
  • Branded Content, also known as Native Content

RELATED: The Main Categories of Native Advertising Everyone Needs to Understand


The in-feed native ads are presented as, for example, sponsored posts on Facebook, sponsored content on Instagram, promoted tweets on Twitter. In the feed you are enjoying, you might find sponsored content, and it will look like everything else in the feed except for the “sponsored”-tag.

In-feed, or in-content, ads are effective because they are unobtrusive and don’t yell campaign slogans at the audience.

These native ads aren’t exclusive to social media, by any means, since you can also find them on content and commerce feeds.

Content Recommendation Ads

Ever noticed the sponsored content in the recommendations section on a news or content site? Those are content recommendations ads. Ever notice how the recommended, sponsored content isn't always relevant to either your preferences or the site you are visiting?

Yeah, that can be an issue, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The point here is that including your content in the recommendations section is a native advertising format, in fact, it’s a dominant native ad format.

Branded Content

Paid content published in the style and format of an editorial piece on a publishers website is considered branded content.

The common example is the basic advertorial, which looks and reads like a newspaper or magazine article, except for it being sponsored. You can find this format in both print and online.

What about paid search?

You might ask, well what about paid search, isn’t that native advertising too?

Paid search looks and feels like the organic search results, yet it’s an ad, and from that perspective, it certainly seems like native advertising. However, the industry looks at search as a separate category of ads and not as part of native advertising.

RELATED: 4 Classic Misconceptions About Native Advertising

The “best” formats for native ads

You can be successful with your native ads on all three formats listed in this article. What you need to be aware of is the quality of your content and which platform you choose to host your native ads, in order to be sure you’re present where your preferred target audience is active.

That being said, the two dominant formats are in-feed and content recommendation Ads. These formats each have their strong suit, both in relation to how people engage with your content and which kind of device best suite the format.

In the following, we will, therefore, dive into a discussion of the two formats and their strengths and weaknesses.

How do the formats perform on mobile and desktop?


People are more active on mobile devices and consume more content on mobile. That gives an advantage to mobile over desktop. In fact, the click-through rates are significantly higher on mobile devices than on desktop.

This might be because native ads on mobile fit seamlessly into the feed on social media, in emails, as recommendations on websites as well as in apps. The design on mobile devices simply does a better job of integrating native ads on different platforms.

With that said, though, you should look at this advantage as more as a potential, rather than a flat-out “win” for mobile. Overall engagement, it seems, is still greater on desktop, where page views are higher and bounce rates are lower compared to mobile.

All this is to say, with mobile, you might have an easier time getting people to click-through to your content, but once there, they tend to be just as quick to leave. Maybe this is due to the generally higher concentration span on desktop.

All in all, it’s safe to say the potential of mobile still isn’t fully fulfilled. People are mobile first and therefore it is a good idea for you to be too, as long as you work to secure more interactions and engagement from all the traffic mobile generates.

It’s a process, so don’t neglect the desktop experience, since it outperforms mobile on engagement as things stand.

RELATED Is Desktop Engagement No Longer Relevant? And Other Native Findings

How do you get your content in front of an audience?


The two dominating formats in native advertising, in-feed and content recommendation ads, can be set up and controlled through specialized online services.

The different social media networks each have their own services and there are also third-party platforms that let you set up and optimize native ads on several networks at once.

And it works roughly the same way with content recommendation ads, but you might want to take a long look at how they work. Generally, these services provide a widget that companies and publishers can integrate on their website. The widget fills in some of the content slots with sponsored and promoted content.

The idea is that the visitor on the site is recommended other relevant pieces of content to consume and some of these will be sponsored, native ads. The key word here is relevant content.

What you need to be aware of is that the companies who provide these recommendations have different ways of determining what is relevant to the visitor.

Some have an algorithm, which focuses on popularity as the primary metric to determine relevance. This means that you might be recommended an article on the “top 10 sexiest men in Hollywood,” even though you were reading a piece on climate change. The subjects have arguably very little, if anything, to do with each other, but the “top 10…” article might be very popular, and that is why you are exposed to it.

On the other hand, some providers of content recommendation widgets take the subject and the hosting site into account when determining what is relevant.

As native ads rely heavily on the viewer's perception of relevancy, it is not surprising that the latter tends to perform better. In fact, if the native content doesn't seem to be relevant or it turns out to miss the mark when clicked on, it often reflects poorly on the company.

If content is king, relevancy is a kingmaker.

When it comes to branded content, the process of bringing it in front of people doesn’t really rely on automation. Usually, branded content is much more of a collaboration with a publisher, than just a paid service.

How do you create a native ads strategy?

business-3189797_1920So you now have an idea as to where you can present your native ads and how. Now you can move on to the strategy, but for this, we will expand the scope a bit.

Native advertising should be used in conjunction with other types of advertising and, usually, native ads are part of a broader inbound or content marketing strategy.

The following guide, therefore, shows the process of creating a general marketing strategy that includes native advertising.

1: What are your goals?

Start by defining your goals and objectives with your marketing and advertising activity. You could be generating more leads or seek to increase brand awareness. Take a look at the activities that have made up your marketing efforts, up to now, and find some relevant results you can use as benchmarks for your new strategy.

If you are new to native advertising, you can wait three months and use your findings to set up realistic goals.

Now that you know where you want to go, find out how much you can spend to get there. That’s right, it’s time to allocate resources and create a budget for your campaign activities. Your budget should also have some wiggle room, though, as you want to remain flexible enough to react to the feedback and online behavior as the campaigns progress.

2: Who do you want to reach?

Who is your ideal buyer? Do you know the who, what, where, when and how of your audience? Their interests, habits, preferences, demographic characteristics as well as geographic composition, it all affects your ability to create the right content and build a relationship with your audience.

3: How do you want to reach your audience?

This is the big one. Plan the campaigns you want to run through the year. We're talking big picture here, so you don’t have to get into specifics about messaging and content, but set the timelines and budgets for each campaign.

You also need to consider which platforms and formats to use for your native ads as well as the theme and goal for each campaign.

4: Get creative!

With the overall structure in place, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty. Develop ideas for the content each campaign will run. This requires a good amount of ideation and creativity and at first, just go with it. Find inspiration in the goal of the campaign and your knowledge about the audience.

When crafting the specific ads - and other pieces of content - keep the guidelines of the intended publisher in mind. Tailor each piece of content to fit the platform, format, campaign goals and the audience. remember that it must blend in with the rest of the content on a specific app, site or publisher.

RELATED: How to Take your Native Ad Strategy Full-Funnel with 3 Specific Content Types

5: Collect and optimize

How are your native ads performing? You need to know early and often, not just after the campaign has ended. You need to keep track of performance during the campaign and optimize it frequently to maximize the results.

Data is your ever-present friend. You should collect as much relevant data as you’re able to analyze and act on. Experiment with different headlines, images and CTAs, then collect data about how they perform to learn what works the best.

If you collect data and optimize your content accordingly, you have a better chance of reaching - and even surpassing - your goals. That way you can ensure that your native advertising efforts reach their full potential.

Story by Adam Villaume

Adam Villaume is a journalist and copywriter at Brand Movers – a leading content marketing agency based in Copenhagen, Denmark. A journalist at heart, Adam intends to make the reader a little smarter through trustworthy and authentic writing, and like a chameleon, his writings seek to blend into the context of each clients media platform. Adam has a background in both journalism and marketing and saw a chance to combine his former experiences into one professional direction through content marketing. Earlier in his career, Adam Villaume developed his writing skills as a journalist for a regional newspaper. He dived deep into the marketing pool, working with a wine imports company and an award-winning wine bar in Copenhagen. Adam got his social media-badge as a digital and social media reporter at TV 2 Business, writing and distributing business news and transforming long interviews into short, engaging videos.

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