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Knowing What Is, and Is Not, a Native Ad Is Step One to Using Them Effectively

Every ad is a native ad these days, or so it seems.

But of course, very few actually are. The term has become so popular that it’s bandied about to refer to a wide range of digital ads that aren’t actually native ads.

The trouble with native

Native ads are one of the fastest growing and most effective formats in digital advertising. Many marketers are aiming to take advantage of all kinds of native ads, but the industry will have the greatest success when practitioners understand the real definition of native ads versus the common misperceptions.

Related: Some Bare Truths About Native Advertising

Many advertisers use “native advertising” now as a catch-all term for anything beyond a pre-roll or banner ad. The problem in this approach is that building an industry around a buzzword creates confusion for media buyers, media creators and advertisers.

Let’s start by clarifying what’s not a native ad.

Native ads are not a new incarnation of integrated ads, where a brand message is woven into the content. That’s branded content. Native ads are not content marketing, such as an article or how-to video about a product or service. Nor are native ads just any generic form of content run on a mobile screen.

What’s in a definition?

So what’s a native ad then? The Interactive Advertising Bureau has made a valiant effort to define it, but the six different types it lists in a “playbook on native ads” — from recommendation widgets to promoted listings — may be feeding the confusion.

Native ads aren’t a big bucket of everything except banners.

Rather, a native ad enhances the experience of the reader or viewer. It is also congruent with the experience. Native ads should engage viewers and be related to the consumer’s time on a Web or digital page.

Think about fashion magazines. The full-color ads in them are beautiful and part of the experience of reading. Consumers buy fashion magazines as much for the compelling images in the ads as for the editorial content.  Consumers don’t feel they are held hostage by the ad. Rather, they expect their favorite, or to-be-discovered, brands to be fully included within the pages.

Likewise, if a consumer has spent 15 minutes reading an article about a surfboard in an online surfing magazine, there’s a natural opportunity to deliver an ad about a surfing-related product. Ideally, that ad will have some interactivity in the form of a means to buy the product, gain more information or share it with friends, family or interested community members. That combination of congruence and action makes the ad native. It encourages consumers to act on the ad in a way that’s useful to them, creates an engagement with the brand or product and feels like a thoughtful part of the reading experience.

Related: Save Native Ads From the Slippery Slope of Deception

How to do native well

Marketers should begin creating native ads by defining the demographics of the audience, then building in the relevance, the content and the interaction around that. Remember - if readers are passionate about a topic, they often want more information or an access point into the brand or product.

Ecommerce is an effective means of engaging users in a native ad. Ads can also include newsletter sign-ups or requests for more information about a product. Ideally, a brand offers an interaction to the user that is relevant to how the user is spending his or her time with the content.

When advertisers get their products in front of interested people who have demonstrated a willingness to take action, the marketer and publisher benefit because both the content and the ad delivers more interaction. Think about where the ad is placed, then what type of action a brand might want to drive to best leverage the environment. A Vogue ad might have an opportunity to buy Louis Vuitton. A home magazine might offer the chance to clip some information about a sofa to look up later or share with spouse or friend.

While native ads are targeted in some ways, they can be thought of as “targeted ads plus engagement.” But they also should connect into the pages on which they reside.

Indeed, a good rule of thumb is to remember that native ads must be relevant to be, ahem, native

Related: To Grab Today's Customers, It's Time to Go Native (Advertising)