Sponsored content and native advertising  may seem similar, but they have important distinctions that marketers should know about.

Both native advertising and sponsored content provide seamless and intuitive experiences for readers. They also have different forms and functions, however, which impacts how they’re distributed and monetized.

Here, we share what advertisers must know about these strategies’ uses, benefits, similarities, and differences — so you can decide when they’re right for your campaign needs.

What is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is a form of advertising where the ad units match their surrounding content and context. Native ads can take the form of website content, social media posts, search ads, and email ads. Since they’re designed to blend into whichever page they’re on, they provide more engaging and less disruptive user experiences.

There are many native advertising platforms that advertisers can use to reach built-in audiences with their campaigns, increasing leads and sales.

What Does Native Advertising Look Like?

Native ads often include a headline, image and a description or caption. They are usually clickable – readers can click through to see the advertised article, video, product, or landing page.

Specifically, native ads can take many forms, including:

  • In-feed social media ads
  • Sponsored search results
  • Recommended content at the end of articles
  • Email newsletter ads
  • Promoted products on e-commerce marketplaces

Native ads are sometimes tough to spot in the wild, as they often match their surrounding content. The biggest difference is that native ads are labeled with disclaimers, such as “Promoted,” “Sponsored,” or “Ad.”

Why Would You Use Native Advertising?

There are many reasons to use native advertising, such as to drive awareness about certain content and messaging, increase website traffic, and generate leads and sales. Native ads can also be targeted to specific audience segments, so advertisers know they’re reaching consumers who are most likely to respond and engage with their campaigns.

In fact, that’s why Taboola exists — to help advertisers deliver personalized content across premium publisher websites and capture people’s attention right when they’re ready to discover something new.

Look at these statistics to better understand the effectiveness of native advertising:

  • Native ads receive 53% more views than traditional display ads
  • Native ads generate 40 times higher CTR than traditional display ads
  • 71% of consumers say they personally identify brands after viewing their native ads

Is Native Advertising Good?

In a word, yes. As with any strategy, there are pros and cons to native advertising, but overall it’s used to effectively scale campaigns and reach audiences without disrupting their experiences.

Examples of Native Advertising

Advertisers use native advertising to deliver personalized articles and videos to people on the open web, such as with this recommended content on USA Today:

Native ads can also take the form of search results. Say you Google “best summer shoes.” The first results on the page are native ads, paid for by brands vying for those top spots:

Native ads can also be used on social media. On Facebook, for instance, advertisers launch native ads that fit right into users’ feeds:

For more inspiration, check out these native advertising examples.

What is Sponsored Content?

Sponsored content is an article or video on a publisher’s site paid for by an advertiser. Like native ads, sponsored posts also take the form of their surrounding content and context. As such, sponsored content is commonly considered a form of native advertising.

What Does Sponsored Content Look Like?

Sponsored content generally takes the form of an article or video on a publisher’s website. The New York Times, for example, runs its T Brand Studio dedicated solely to creating interactive articles on behalf of advertisers. Forbes launched its Brand Voice arm to do the same. In each case, the resulting sponsored content looks just like any organic content on the site, but it includes a disclaimer, such as “Sponsored” or “Paid Program.”

Is Sponsored Content Right for You?

Figure out whether sponsored content works for your advertising needs by considering the pros and cons of this strategy.

Pros of Sponsored Content

The benefits of sponsored content include:

  • Fitting seamlessly into the user experience
  • Providing value to consumers who are looking for helpful information in the form of an article or video
  • Reaching built-in audiences of readers on publisher websites

Cons of Sponsored Content

The disadvantages of sponsored content include:

  • A risk of frustrating or confusing readers if they can’t easily discern that an advertiser paid for the content
  • Higher costs, since sponsored content placements are commonly purchased directly and exclusively from publishers
  • Navigating the time-consuming process of creating original, long-form content from scratch

Examples of Sponsored Content

In this example of sponsored content, Mountain Dew paid for this VICE article about snowboarder Julia Marino:

Over at The New York Times, Dropbox sponsored an interactive, graphic-filled article about starting businesses in 2020:

Meanwhile, Forbes worked with Capital One to publish an article about payment technologies that businesses can use to enable no-touch purchases:

What Is the Difference Between Sponsored Content and Native Advertising?

Use this chart to understand the specifics of native advertising vs. sponsored content.

Native Advertising Sponsored Content
Definition Paid ads that match their surrounding content and context Paid content in the form of a long article or video
  • Fits seamlessly into the user experience
  • Reaches built-in audiences or readers or viewers
  • Targets segmented audiences based on interests and behaviors
  • Scales campaigns across platforms and the open web
  • Fits seamlessly into the user experience
  • Reaches built-in audiences or readers or viewers
  • Educates or entertains readers with in-depth content
  • Recommendation widget
  • Social media post
  • Search result
  • Email ad
  • Blog post
  • Article
  • Video

It’s important for advertisers to choose the strategies that work best for their messaging, goals, and audience behaviors. Once you land on the right marketing mix, be sure to find the best practices and services you need, such as Taboola’s Content Discovery Platform, to inform your campaigns and deliver results.

For further reading about this topic, check out these resources:

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