Native advertising – from A to Z

By Stine F. Mathiasen, Head of Content & Creative at Benjamin_Creative
Aug 26, 2015

Branded content? Definition? Labelling? Recommendation platforms? Words, terms and expressions are flying around in our heads when we read and talk about native advertising. And many times, we have dreamt about a great native advertising encyclopedia to keep the great overview. So now, we have made this dictionary ourselves. For your convenience. Find it here and get all the terms straight. We give you native advertising from A to Z:

A: Advertorials

Vichy advertorial

The short explanation, an advertorial in a printed media is an advertisement disguised as an editorial article – therefore the blend of the words ‘advertisement’ and ‘editorial’ – where the content matches the rest of the media. It is coverage bought by a brand, and it looks like the rest of the magazine or online media both in form and content. It is an ad that walks, talks and acts like an editorial article. When your advertorial looks like the rest of the media, you are able to use the connection that the media already has with its readers and benefit from the media's credibility.

B: Branded content

Native advertising goes by many names and many often call it branded or sponsored content. But don't let that fool you. It is still native advertising, since native advertising is sponsored and/or branded content in its very form. It is content paid for by brands and labelled as an advertisement.

C: Call to action

A call to action (CTA) is an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response, usually using an imperative verb such as "call now", "find out more" or "visit a store today". And even though the mission of native advertising is not always to pursue a direct sale in the same way as banner ads strive for the sale, you often see call to actions incorporated in native advertising campaigns.

A CTA can be a simple non-demanding request like "choose a color" or "watch this video", or a much more demanding request. An obvious CTA would be requesting the audience to purchase a product or provide personal details and contact information.

D: Definition

The exact definition of native advertising is heavily debated. Here at the Native Advertising Institute, we work with the following definition of native advertising:

"Native advertising is paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears."

Because native is still quite a newborn in the marketing industry, the definition is still under process. Right now, there is a lot of discussion about whether advertorials are native advertising or not. Just like there is a difference whether people are putting the whole programmatic part of the business in the same box as native advertising. We feel pretty sure that the definition will be adjusted a couple of times in the time to come. Stay tuned.

E: Effectiveness


Since the dawn of native advertising, one recurrent theme of criticism and uncertainty has been the apparent inability to measure the effectiveness of sponsored content. We have written about it before: The native conundrum: How to measure effect and we are hardly alone in identifying measurement as something of an Achilles heel for native advertising. According to a survey made by the Association of National Advertisers, a representative body for the marketing community in the United States, marketers use all kinds of different metrics to gauge the effect of their native advertising efforts. Metrics such as ‘Click-throughs’, ‘Social media sharing’, ‘Time spent’, ‘Audience reach and frequency’, ‘Data capture’ and ‘Downloads’, ‘Lead generation’, ‘Customer acquisition’, ‘Sales’ and ‘Registration’. And so on and so on.

Perhaps the real problem is not that the effectiveness of native advertising can’t be measured, but rather the plethora of available metrics that make it difficult to identify which are the most important. There is a lack of standardization in terms of how to measure the impact of native advertising.

We believe that the status on how to measure native advertising is: If you know what you want to achieve with your campaign, the measurements are right there and up for grabs. If you don’t know, however, you are going to get lost in metrics.

F: Facebook and all the other social media

By now, almost each and every social media has made their platform available for native advertising. We’re talking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and so forth. Conceptually, it’s pretty simple: You, the brand, pay the social media service for the right to sponsor a post or update thus obtaining much greater reach than you would normally have access to. Without sponsorship, there is no way of knowing if your followers are going to see your posts. With sponsorship, posts are guaranteed to be visible to your audience. That’s what you pay for.

G: Guidelines

As mentioned above, native advertising is still a new marketing format. Therefore, the marketers working with native have been lacking some guidelines. By now, more and more well-written and thoroughly developed guidelines have seen the light of day, so there are plenty of wise words to dive into if you want to know more about how to work with native advertising. For instance, IAB and its Native Advertising Task Force have released the Native Advertising Playbook, and the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) has released Guidelines for Editors and Publishers.

H: Honesty

Because native advertising's very goal is to look just like editorial content, the users easily get confused. They simply cannot figure out what is editorial content and what is advertising. This is a problem because it hurts the trust of the users and you therefore risk that they don't feel good about you as a brand. It can also hurt the credibility of the news brand publishing the campaign. We have written a blog post about this, so if you want to know much more about the honesty/trust issue, read more here.

I: iOS9 and its Ad Blocker

Apple's new operating system, iOS9 and its brand new ad block features is here before we know it. And it has been the topic on many native advertising blogs. Including our own here at the Native Advertising Institute.

To consumers, ad blocking is a nice little function that keeps any commercial disturbance from interrupting their online experience. To publishers, however, ad blocking is a potential menace that could wipe out one of the most important aspects of their business model.

There is definitely reason to believe that an increment of ad blocking will lead to an increment of native advertising. Publishers will be desperate to find types of advertising that can evade ad blockers and sponsored content that is truly native, blends in with editorial products and should be difficult to identify for ad blockers. Furthermore, most publishers have some experience with sponsored content. As banner ads lose their profitability, publishers should have the know-how to make native advertising work on some level. However, it might not be that simple. There seems to be some confusion regarding sponsored content’s actual ability to evade ad blockers.

But one thing is for sure, the destinies of native advertising and ad blockers are entangled. We will continue to pay close attention as this one plays out.

J: Journalism

Journalists are very scared of native advertising! Okay now, we are generalizing and maybe even exaggerating a little, but there is a lively debate on native advertising in the media. Because native advertising LOOKS like editorial content a lot of media and journalists fear that the marketing format will damage the credibility of the media. They fear that the readers can't differentiate and therefore feel cheated when they find out that an article that they first read as an editorial piece actually was an advertisement. The keyword here is transparency. More about this under T...

K: Knowledge

Together with the Native Advertising Institute, Twitter is the place to be if you want scalding updates on the world of today. Therefore, we have put together a list of ten very interesting individuals that you need to follow on Twitter if you want the hottest and most important chit-chat knowledge on #nativeadvertising. Some of them are:

Leanne Brinkies, Head of native advertising at King Content: @LBrinkies

Mrs. Native is what could almost call Leanne Brinkies. She is Head of Native at King Content, which is a content marketing agency founded in Australia and she knows everything that is going on in native advertising.

Stephanie Losee, Head of brand content at Politico:@slosee

We were already following Stephanie Losee on Twitter when she was working at Dell as their Global Content Editor, and we are no less interested now that she is Head of Brand Content at Politico, where she is in charge of Politico Focus, an in-house department that will create native advertising for brands.

James Morris, Global Head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising: @JSMWBA

James Morris looks after MediaCom Beyond Advertising, which is the specialist content marketing division now spanning 43 MediaCom offices worldwide, including more than 700 dedicated content specialists. Following him gives you both native advertising updates as well as advertising in general. And then he’s apparently also a huge West Bromich fan. We think it is best not to comment on that …

You can read the rest of the list by clicking right here.

L: Labelling

As mentioned above, you need to be honest when you do native advertising. So the readers and users do not feel mislead. The way to do this is to be very clear in your labeling of your native content. It should very clearly say 'Sponsored Post' or 'Advertising' or which ever word you want to use. In that way there is no doubt in the readers mind that they are now reading something that is not editorial content.

M: Mobile


At this point in time, it’s hardly breaking news to anyone that mobile devices are the main platform for consuming online content. Almost a year ago Millennial Media and comScore published a report that identified how smartphones (44 pct.) and tablets (12 pct.) were responsible for 56 pct. of consumed online content. In 2013, 40 pct. of online content was reached from mobile devices. The trend is clear and it’s moving at a staggering pace: mobile devices are becoming our primary gateway to the internet.

So how does this affect native advertising? If the vast majority of your audience is going to access content from a mobile device, you might as well tailor your online content for smartphones and tablets. Read much more about this here.

N: Netflix

The streaming company, Netflix, is one to watch when it comes to native ads. Native ads are becoming the cornerstones of the streaming service’s marketing campaign for their original series. And Netflix doesn’t create small ads. They go big and they go flashy.

Netflix’s first foray into the realm of native advertising was taken in May of 2014 when an ad – TV Got Better – appeared on and covered the future of TV. The ad has since been compared to The New York Times’ editorial feature ‘Snow Fall’.

The second native ad – Women Inmates – that Netflix bought ran on The New York Times website in June of 2014 and looked at women’s prisons. The ad was of course a way of promoting the Netflix original series ‘Orange is the New Black’ and it consisted of video, charts and audio to supplement text about female incarceration in the U.S.

In March 2015, Netflix paid The Atlantic and their in-house creative marketing group, Re:think, an undisclosed sum to create a lengthy, reported article with interactive charts and a video exploring the dynamic between certain U.S. presidents and their wives. The ad included the fictitious couple in the Netflix original series ‘House of Cards’. The article, called ‘The Ascent’, is a native ad and it promotes the third season of ‘House of Cards’.

So if you want to see some well-produced and thought through native ads, take a look at these.

O: Outbrain and other recommendation platforms

Another form of native advertising is brought to you by the so called recommendation widgets or platforms. It is the placements at the bottom of the articles you are reading where they tip you about three other articles that you might find interesting. This form of native is both loved and hated as Leanne Brinkies from King Content stated recently in another blog post. Loved because of the possibilities of revenue and hated because they have a tendency not to reach your target audience.

Taboola and Outbrain are the two biggest content recommendation companies in the world, and they make up two of the most visible native advertising players on the web. Media companies and marketers pay Outbrain and Taboola to get their links posted on the publishers’ sites in an effort to drive traffic to their content. The content discovery company shares revenue with the publishers where the links appear.

Content discovery or content recommendation is big business in native advertising. In November 2014, Time Inc. struck a deal with Outbrain worth more than 100 million dollars to the magazine publisher. The partnership establishes Outbrain as the exclusive external provider for recommended links for Time Inc. websites such as and

P: Personas


We spoke a bit about 'your target audience' just before. Another way of saying 'target audience' is using the term 'personas'. Personas are very important for your native advertising campaigns, because they help you create the right content for the right people.

A persona is a fictional character created to make an actual and realistic representation of a user type that might use your website, brand, product or services. Personas serve the purpose of helping brands develop a greater understanding of customers and their needs. More than anything, if you work thoroughly with personas they provide constant guidance on how to design content with the needs of your customers in mind.

You can read much more about native advertising and personas right here.

Q: Quiz tiiiiiime ...

Okay, now it's time for a little quiz. A native quiz of course. I will ask you a quick question and you have 30 seconds to come up with the answer. Don't ask Google!

Here goes:

A couple of years ago, a media brand got a lot of unintended attention for a sponsored web post by the Church of Scientology – which media brand was it?

Tic tock tic tock ... 30 seconds later:

And the answer is:

The Atlantic!

Did you get it right? Cool. Maybe you don't even need this A-Z then...;-)

R: Revenue

Why has native advertising become so popular during the last year or two? One word: Revenue. Almost all reports that we have seen about native advertising are showing that brands, advertisers and agencies working with native advertising are experiencing a growth in revenue from this discipline. Let's just take the report from our own pond. The Native Advertising Trending 2015 – Denmark report from this spring showed that 72 percent of publishers believe their revenue from native advertising is going to increase. Agencies as well think that they are going to make more money off native advertising in the near future.

S: Scalability

If you have been reading this blog from the beginning you could, with all fairness, have accused us for a mild version of schizophrenia when, only a few weeks apart, we published both a blog post with the title Native advertising doesn't scale – and maybe it shouldn't and another one called Native advertising is scalable – or at least some believe that it is. But we are not (that) mentally ill. We were just trying to demonstrate both sides to the vivid debate about native advertising's ability to scale. Or lack of ability to scale, depending on what you believe.

The issue of scalability is at the core of native advertising. Do you believe that the same piece of content can be a good fit for several different media outlets? Or do you subscribe to the traditionalist view that native advertising is a monogamistic endeavor where pieces of content only fit one publisher? That is the scalability issue in a nutshell.

T: True or false? 

Native advertising, hotly debated as it is, finds itself surrounded by healthy doses of myth-making. So what is true and what is false? We tried to clarify five of the most pressing myths in this post. One of them:

Myth: Native advertising is an entirely new concept

Truth: Definitely not

In 1900, tire manufacturer Michelin published the Michelin Guide, their 400 page manifest to help motorists with maps, hotel names, restaurants and other kinds of useful information for the road. The content itself had almost no mention of tires – the brand’s actual product – but the Michelin Guide became wildly successful. Michelin knew that improving the driving experience would help increase car sales and directly improve the demand for tires. This was essentially native advertising in one of its earliest forms.

The original Michelin Guide A truly old school piece of native advertising. But native advertising none the less. The Michelin Guide did wonders for Michelin's brand awareness without having much to do with tires.

U: Unbelievably cute and popular native video about cats ...

Funny animal videos tend to work. Maybe this was what the cat food company Purina realized when they made their 'Dear Kitten' video and published it on BuzzFeed. The video went viral and is a first class example of how the users don't care if something is advertising as long as it entertaining. By now, the video has been seen 23,153,683 times on YouTube (that's a whole lot of potential cat food buyers!…) and it recently won the Best Sponsored Video at Sharethrough's, The Native Creatives.

V: Videos

Above, we showed you a great and very successful example of a native video, which is a format that you might as well get used to. This year's Acumen Report found that the forever elusive millennials, and the even younger Gen Zers, watch an average of 11.3 hours of free online video a week. Obviously, this makes online video one of the important platforms, if not the most important platform, when native advertisers want to reach their audiences in the near future.

The New York Times has already announced 'Mobile Moments', a platform for native advertising videos, and more publishers are expected to follow.

W: Winners

Why not be inspired by the best?

Every year, The Native Creatives, the inaugural native advertising awards, presented by Sharethrough is held and if you really want to take a look at some well-conducted and impressive native ads for inspiration, then just walk through the list of this year's winners. Here you will find the sponsored article, The Ascent, from The Atlantic and Netflix. At the award show, there were two ways to win each category: Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice – and The Ascent won both in the category Best Sponsored Content Editorial. The sponsored post focuses on political couples as a promotion for Netflix’s popular show “House of Cards” and took home the award for Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice.

See all the 2015 winners of The Native Creatives here.

X: X-factor

We were THIS CLOSE to writing about British rock band Coldplay's third studio album X&Y, but then we remembered the average, borderline uninspired, pop rock which did nothing to resemble the majestic highs of A Rush of Blood to the Head, their preceding album, and how the record, including Chris Martin's increasingly predictable lyrics, probably signaled the beginning of the end to the creative peak of one of Britain's most beloved rock bands in the post-Britpop era. Also, it didn't really have anything to do with native advertising.

So instead we bring you something that we call the X-factor of native advertising. What is the X-factor of native advertising? The X-factor is that people, despite the fact that it's advertising, actually want to engage with native advertising. That is pretty special in an age of ad block and general ad hostility. We're not saying that all native advertising is good enough to achieve broad acceptance, but some is and can you say that about any other type of advertising?

Netflix pic

Look no further than 'Women Inmates', by courtesy of The New York Times and Netflix. This piece of advertising(ADVERTISING!) was among the top 1,47 percent most popular articles on during a 341-day stretch in which more than 65,000 stories were published(as reported by The Native Advertising Institute right here). That's some X-factor right there, people!

Y: Youtility

We still haven't seen a book just about native advertising, but if you want to read a great book about creating great content try Jay Baer's Youtility. The description reads:

"The difference between helping and selling is just two letters, but those two letters make all the difference. What if – faced with more competition than ever before – you stopped trying to be amazing, and just started being useful?"

And this is what great native is all about. Creating content that is useful for your audience and is not just about selling.

Z: Zzzzz ...

It is a tough job creating a complete native advertising encyclopedia. So now, we are all tired here at the Native Advertising Institute. But just give us a moment and we will, of course, be right back with the latest and greatest native advertising knowledge. Stay tuned.

In her position as Head of Content & Creative, Stine is responsible for every piece of quality content the bureau creates. Starting out as a journalist, Stine worked for years at various interior magazines, as well as editing the home and design sections of some of Denmark’s most-read daily papers. Because of her strong will to develop and nurture projects from scratch, she has been on board Aller Media’s office of innovation. Here, she helped develop a lifestyle magazine for the Japanese market. In recent years, Stine helped initiate the Native Advertising Institute’s blog. Today, in her position at the fast-growing content marketing bureau Benjamin_Creative, she produces content and native ads for a large and diverse group of clients — from big shopping malls to even bigger design brands.

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