Native Advertising: Reaching Your Audience Through Subliminal Content


"Content marketing" and "native advertising" are two of those terms that sound similar and are sometimes used to mean the same thing, but are actually very different – and that difference means a lot for the future of online marketing. Here's why you need to keep up with native ads!

Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising: All About Camouflage

Content marketing is a very broad term: It refers to all types of content created for a marketing campaign – with a particular emphasis on content that is useful and valuable to the customer. That content can be used in many, many different forms and channels, which is one reason that content marketing is such a large field!

A native ad, meanwhile, is a much smaller niche of content marketing that refers to ad content that blends into its surroundings on purpose. Specifically, the goal of native ads are to create content that doesn't look like an ad, but rather like all the other content around it. It's easy to find an example of this in today's online B2B magazines – native ads tend to look just like links to other articles, but with slightly different shading and often a small label that says "sponsored" or "ad" or something similar.

This camouflage 'subliminal content' feature is the primary identifier for all native ads, but that doesn't mean that the ads are lying. Correct native ads should indeed lead to a complete article or post that provides value to the viewer, just like all content marketing. But these articles have an ulterior motive: Engaging people about a brand and pointing them toward a CTA to find out more information or buy a product.

Key Features of Native Advertising

If you're thinking about how a native ad could work for you, we suggest visiting an online magazine and looking for their versions of native ads (Restaurant Business Online, for example, has native ads that look exactly like their other articles except the byline defines them as "sponsored content"). Briefly, native ads are defined by these major features:

  • It's Graphic Design is Important: The colors, font, and general style of the ad should match surrounding links or articles as closely as possible. Usually websites that post native ads have a specific format that can be used to get this look.
  • It's Seamless: When viewers come across native ads, they should be giving them more attention than the average banner ad. Here's where the "subliminal" properties of the ad come into play: Because they look like surrounding content, the brain just assumes that they are normal content and doesn't skip past as fast as it would with banner ads.
  • It has Advertising Fees: Native ads are not free: You have to pay to place them in a method very similar to placing more traditional ads. The format is the important part here.
  • It Matches the Targeted Website: We're not just talking about appearance – the content has to match to. A native ad on Buzzfeed shouldn't be talking about socio-political trends in China, it should be showing happy pictures of kittens (preferably snuggled up to your product). Match the tone and topics of the site as closely as possible so that viewers really do have a reason to engage with your content instead of feeling cheated.

Why You Should Use Native Ads

Native ads have several growing advantages in today's online world. As we mentioned before, people are now trained to skip by banner ads and ad boxes to find the content that they want. A growing number of users are simply installing ad blockers that remove those ads entirely. Native advertising provides an alternative, a type of content marketing that promises to be more effective in the long term. Studies are backing this up as well. Native ads increase both clickthrough rates and intent to purchase rates compared to banner ads.

Native ads are also controversial: The whole "flying under the radar" purpose has been questioned by many people who see them as a cheap trick, or who have been disappointed by poor native advertising in the past. It's a fascinating topic that goes right to the heart of what we consider to be marketing, how effective ads are, and the future of online advertising. We'll be talking a little more about what makes a good native ad in the future, but for now it's an important trend to keep your eye on.


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Isaac Oswalt

Owner of 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. Futurist in nature, Isaac displays a deep desire to preserve the human element in today's business. Trust being the ultimate currency, his clients appreciate that "new and stronger handshakes" is a success metric in their businesses.

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