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What Is Native Advertising?

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations.


While the term native advertising is a late addition to the advertising world, the concept of marrying content with promotion is not. Native advertising takes content marketing and branding to a whole new, but very subtle and sophisticated, level.

Briefly, native advertising is creating content (articles, videos, reports, guides, etc.) to look like regular editorial material in a publication or website. This can also be referred to as advertorials, sponsored content or branded content. If it wasn't identified as being placed for advertising purposes, it could be difficult to distinguish it from other news items which is why it's identified as "native." This allows the sponsor (the creator of the content, which is the advertiser) to gain from the publication's or website's reputation and audience. An example of a native advertising platform is Forbes Brand Voice.

Unlike typical display advertising which can interrupt the user experience with ill-timed or awkwardly placed ads, native advertising blends in naturally. Because of its stealthy properties, native advertising requires disclosure of its paid content status. If undisclosed, it can have serious SEO consequences and advertisers could be cited for not following FTC guidelines. Both will be discussed below.

Native Advertising Explained

Advertorials versus Native Advertising... What's the Difference?

In the past, what was referred to as native advertising used to be called advertorial—the blending of advertising and editorial material. These articles looked and felt like regular articles in a magazine or newspaper, but were paid for by an advertiser, usually with a notation at the top which said "Advertisement" or "Sponsored." So what's the difference? Not much. But here's the new native twist...

Advertorials in the past used to be primarily developed by the advertiser. Publications or websites may have had some layout or content guidelines, but the content was pretty much up to the advertiser. Today, publishers may have entire teams dedicated to helping advertisers create content that integrates with the message and style of the publication or website ( This goes way beyond traditional advertising space sales, with these teams filling a larger consulting role.

Additionally, today's native advertising content is more likely to be distributed on the Internet, although opportunities are still available in print media.

When the Advertiser Becomes the Publisher

Another native advertising strategy is for the advertiser to create its own native advertising platform, essentially becoming a publisher.

One such example created by tire manufacturer Michelin is discussed by social media superstar Gary Vaynerchuk in the following video. In this example, Michelin does not own the restaurants they feature. Rather, they offer advertising opportunities in their guides. As with standard native advertising publications and websites, advertisers wish to align themselves with the Michelin brand name and its reputation, as well as tap into the audience that uses their travel information.

FTC and Google Search Issues Regarding Native Advertising

In the print publication world, it was pretty easy for users to identify what was true editorial content and what were paid advertorials. As noted earlier, the page or ad space was marked with the word "Advertisement" or "Sponsored." For advertisers who struggled to get placement of their press releases in a publication, the advertorial route offered them the opportunity to create the illusion of "getting ink" or "getting press."

Then along came the Internet. Banner ads were obviously advertising. But what about paid backlinks? What about guest blog posts which an advertiser pays a blogger to publish? This is where things get much more complicated.

Due to FTC (Federal Trade Commission) guidelines, paid relationships must be disclosed on social media, blogs, etc. This is a developing issue that needs to be watched by advertisers and bloggers involved with native advertising. In December 2013, the FTC hosted a workshop "to examine the practice of blending advertisements with news, entertainment, and other content in digital media." The outcome of this workshop could have a major impact on native advertising and sponsored content. Stay tuned for updates and guidelines from the FTC on the issue.

This scenario also has some serious ramifications for ranking in search engines such as Google. For paid content, it should be clearly identified as advertising or sponsored content. As noted in the following video from Google, paid backlinks need to be "no-follow" links so that their inclusion does not unfairly influence search ranking. This could get an advertiser or website penalized by Google or other search engines, which means they are unlikely to appear in search results.

Native Advertising Advice from Matt Cutts at Google (Important!)

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 23, 2013:

Aloha and Happy Monday, Joe/hawaiianodysseus! Thanks for reading and glad you found it helpful. Trust me, we're ALL beginning to get a better understanding of these concepts. Advertising is undergoing a lot of changes. So we've all got to stay tuned. And if I ever head your way for speaking or other travel, I will definitely let you know. :) Have a great week ahead!

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on September 23, 2013:

I'm only beginning to understand these concepts, Heidi. I'd love to watch you give a presentation of this someday, either in a hub video or in person. : ) Thanks for sharing and for definitely planting seeds of understanding in my brain. Have a great week with lots of aloha!


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 19, 2013:

Hello Everyone! I just updated this post with link to info from the FTC on their workshop to discuss native advertising guidelines. This is a must-watch issue for advertisers!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 10, 2013:

You certainly have expertise! Thanks for the information.

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on September 09, 2013:

It's my pleasure, Heidi! I'm so glad that we met here!!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 09, 2013:

Hi Elizabeth/epbooks! So glad you've found these hubs helpful. Truly appreciate your support & friendship here on HP!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on September 09, 2013:

I love that you write such valuable information... and write it well! I bookmarked some of yours in case I need them for the future. Voted up and shared!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on September 09, 2013:

Thanks for reading and your kind support, FlourishAnyway! I don't think I see native advertising in any particular industry more than another, but I do see it used more by very large organizations. Why? Because, underneath it all, it's advertising! And usually only bigger players with bigger bucks can play on sites such as Forbes. As well, there is a significant cost to create content of this type. So this is not generally for small business. For small businesses who want to try their hand at native advertising strategies, they'd be best advised to seek guest blogging opportunities which, although they are also self-promoting in nature, are more obvious than stealth in their presentation. Great question!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 09, 2013:

Excellent information. When I read an article that seems like it is sponsored content, I feel duped. Have you noticed its prevalence in any one particular industry? Voted up, interesting, useful, awesome.

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