Thursday April 28th || by Aaron Taube

Native advertising is one of the fast-growing segments of the digital ecosystem, with U.S. ad spend growing rapidly every single year. But while the category is expected to receive $21 billion in American ad dollars by 2018, many marketers remain unsure about the best practices for running a native campaign.

In fact, some marketers are even confused about what native advertising actually is. In order to clear up some of the common misconceptions, below are a few pointers that can help marketers and publishers unlock the full potential of native advertising, without sacrificing efficiency or scale.

Misconception #1: Native advertising is always content.

Perhaps due to the prominence of BuzzFeed’s sponsored listicles, many people have come to the conclusion that “content marketing” and “native advertising” are the same thing. This is not the case. While “content marketing” is a type of advertising message that uses a piece of content to connect with consumers, “native advertising” refers to a type of distribution where an ad is presented to the user in a way that feels cohesive with the website or app it appears on.

As Taboola’s founder and CEO Adam Singolda described in Adweek, native advertising can be found anywhere a promoted message “matches the function and intent of its surrounding environment.” While this sometimes includes content marketing — like the aforementioned listicle on the BuzzFeed homepage — it also includes other kinds of paid media. For instance, paid search ads on Google are native because they blend in seamlessly with organic search results, as are Amazon promoted product listings because they match the look and feel of surrounding product recommendations.

Misconception #2: You need to work with a publisher to produce content for your native campaign.

In recent years, mainstream publishers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have built their own branded content studios. Central to the sales pitch is the idea that their publishing experience allows them to produce content that is superior to what a brand could make on its own or with the help of an advertising agency.

While these branded content studios are no doubt capable of producing excellent work, advertisers like Red Bull, Casper and Royal Dutch Airlines are building their own publications full of compelling stories they’ve created independently. The lesson? Marketers can create great content without a publisher’s help, and they can host it natively on sites they own, as well as on social platforms like YouTube or Medium.

Misconception #3: Native content can only live on one platform.

As we mentioned earlier, the chief benefit of a native ad is that it provides value in the same way as the units that surround it. For instance, a branded video that a car manufacturer publishes on YouTube is valuable because it entertains or informs viewers in the same way as other YouTube car videos.

However, content can also be promoted natively elsewhere on the web, so long as it remains contextually relevant. For instance, that hypothetical branded car video could also add value to a user when promoted inside a car enthusiast’s Facebook feed, or on the video page of a publisher that covers the automobile industry. In order to be successful in native advertising, marketers should be aware of all of the distribution options at their disposal.

Misconception #4: Content creation is the single most important part of any native campaign.

A big mistake many native advertisers make is dedicating almost all of their resources to creating a piece of content, in hopes that they will gain traction with their target audience just from placing a link on their blog or the website of a major publisher. While a compelling message is important to any campaign, native advertisers need to make sure they budget significant resources for paid distribution.

In addition to the website that hosts a piece of content, marketers should explore using additional native distribution channels to reach the right audience at scale. These channels can include social platforms like Facebook, sponsored search listings on Google, or Taboola’s native content recommendations on top sites across the web.

Ideally, you’ll be able to combine paid distribution and earned media in a way that creates a virtuous cycle, where paid spend gives you access to a large number of people, who then grow your audience by sharing your native ad with their friends on social media.

Native advertising has emerged as a powerful tool for communicating with targeted audiences in an authentic manner. This format will only grow more important to digital marketers over the next several years, as users continue to block or ignore interruptive forms of advertising. While native advertising can be difficult to get right, it’s exciting to see that new platforms and technologies will only make it easier for marketers to use the format to reach the right audience, at scale, in a multitude of contextually relevant environments.

Aaron Taube

Aaron Taube is a freelance writer and reporter based in New York City. Prior to striking out on his own, he worked as an advertising reporter at Business Insider and a researcher at the legal news service Law360. He is an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.