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What is Native Advertising? Turns Out, It Depends Who You Ask

Oct 10, 2017 / by Maggie Clapperton


According to CMO and digital marketing influencer, Chad Pollitt, native advertising is suffering from a “terminology problem”. While the channel is no doubt growing, Pollitt maintains that native “would be growing even faster if the different stakeholders would agree on the language”. 

We happen to agree. If you ask the typical in-house marketer or publisher “what is native advertising?” you’ll most likely be given the example of the New York Times’ now infamous Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work, a piece of sponsored content... or native advertising... or branded content promoting the popular Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.

The article was so well written and well researched (or as marketers love to say, “value adding”) that many readers felt duped when they realized they were being sold to. Comedian John Oliver even used the ad to anchor a whole segment on the perils of corporate influence in the media, putting “native advertising” on the map for all the wrong reasons.

But I wouldn’t call Women Inmates native at all. I’d call it sponsored content. That is, paid advertising content written explicitly for NYT readers. As Pollitt points out, “Ad tech companies, marketers and publishers seem to use a different lexicon. For example, when a publisher calls something sponsored content it means something totally different to a marketer and most ad tech vendors.”

He continues, “When a marketer uses the phrase branded content it means something different to publishers. Other phrases that that get all mixed up and mean different things depending on who the stakeholder is included content marketing, influencer marketing, and native advertising.”

In ad tech, native advertising is a programmatic ad that adapts to the design of the page it is served on. Rather than working directly with a specific publisher, as Netflix did with the NYT, or remaining static across the web like a display ad, a native ad is clearly labeled as a “sponsored post” among a feed of organic headlines. Most importantly, the ad navigates away from the publisher to the brand’s blog or landing page, further alerting consumers to the nature of the content.  


Implementing a common language between publishers, marketers, ad tech vendors, and consumers may be all but impossible, but an increased working knowledge of programmatic native vs. what a publisher or less tech savvy marketer considers native would be a start.

“One of the toughest challenges is simply knowledge,” Pollitt laments, “Most industry folks can’t even name 10 native ad tech vendors.” As technology evolves at an ever increasing clip and consumers of all ages are glued to their personal devices, the knowledge gap in our industry will continue to widen. Unless digital marketers (a redundant term at this point, all marketers are digital marketers in some capacity) commit to providing and/or undertaking technological education, confusion will follow. We rounded up a list of impartial resources here  

Topics: Blog Posts, Featured, News, Resources

Written by Maggie Clapperton

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