The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
The Comprehensive Guide
to Native Advertising
A Vocus eBook
Paid For and Posted by XYZ
Promoted by XYZ
Sponsored by XYZ
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2. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
A Vocus eBook
Native advertising – the purchasing of sponsored content on social networks and online
websites – dominated digital marketing conversations the past year. Market research
company BIA/Kelsey estimates that U.S. native ad spending on social sites might have
reached $2.36 billion in 2013, or 38.9 percent of total U.S. paid social ad expenditures.
How can you effectively work native advertising into your marketing mix? This eBook
highlights some techniques brands are using to do just that. It will show you the rich
native advertising ecosystem of publishers, vendors, social networks and search engines
that help companies create, manage and track content.
Finally, we’ll show you the ethical issues to avoid with sponsored content. The Federal
Trade Commission (FTC) recently held a meeting with brands and publishers to discuss
native advertising – and while some issues were highlighted, others were raised. Your
brand can use this set of tools, as long as the ads disclose sponsorship so that consumers
are better informed.
3. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
What is Native Advertising?
In The New York Times example below, the post is clearly
labeled as “Paid For and Posted by Dell.”
A survey from Online Publishers Association says native ads include “coniPad
tent integrated into the design of
the publishers site, living in the
same domain, as well as content
either provided by, produced in
conjunction with or created on
behalf of our advertisers that runs
within the editorial stream.” In
native ads, there is a clear delineation, labeling the unit as ad content.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau
defines six types of native ad units in its mustread, “Native Advertising Playbook”:
And Buzzfeed integrates their native advertising in the
Social media in-feed units (such as Facebook’s ads
with a social context)
OO Paid search
form of posts written by the brand, which is delineated as a
widgets (often seen as “From
Around the Web”)
OO Promoted listings
OO Standard ads with
native elements (banner or box
with text or placed at beginning of post)
OO Custom campaigns created with the client
This graphic shows an “in-feed” example, from Forbes’
homepage. It looks like other articles, but is clearly called
out as a “Forbes BrandVoice.” The disclosure indicates sponsored content, in this case by Gyro, a B2B marketing firm.
Edelman Public Relations’ Chief Content Strategist Steve
Rubel sums it up succinctly: “I’d define native advertising as taking that which is organic and flipping it around
Native ads aren’t unique to online publications like Forbes
or Mashable. Facebook’s ads (and, for now, their “sponsored
stories”2) and Twitter’s “Promoted Tweets” are examples of
sponsored content appearing in social networks. Unlike
the Facebook banner ads, content ads such as photo posts
1 Conversation with Steve Rubel, 1/2/14
2 Sponsored Stories will “sunset” on April 9th of 2014, http://allfacebook.com/sponsored-stories-sunset-april-9_b128224
4. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
are paid promotions of actions that a user’s friends take on
While debate on content marketing vs. advertising
the platform, including check-ins, “likes” or RSVPs. They
can go on all day, the form is considered native
appear directly in the News Feed. Page owners can target
advertising, implying a payoff for the marketer as well as
ads via Facebook’s ad manager.
A brand may have their own account on Twitter,
but much of their content is not seen because
most people are not on Twitter at any given
moment. A Promoted Tweet shows up
in the stream for users who follow that
account or are targeted based on the user’s
expressed interests, geography or device.
The Promoted Tweet is noted as “promoted,” but appears natural within the user’s
stream, “integrated into the design” of the site.
Edelman PR’s Rubel says, “If you look at search content with
paid search results, that’s the model. If you look at Tweets
and Promoted Tweets, that’s the model. And it’s working.”
Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising
Currently, many firms are using “content marketing” to
reach customers. Native advertising has a lot in common
with content marketing; however, content marketing is
typically text, video or other media that is intended to
inform the customer, providing something of value.
Much of content marketing builds brand over time. This
paper itself is an example of content marketing - a neutral
point-of-view piece of content that is not selling a
specific service or product, but educates marketers as a
service from Vocus.
Alternately, native advertising is material that is sponsored. While it may offer valuable content, it is still an ad
trying to offer a product, service or point of view. Often
times, native advertising is used to expand the reach of
content marketing – to get more eyes on the content
produced by a brand.
Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin reminds us
that what we consider “content” is often marketing in
disguise. The Michelin Guide for travel and accommodations was started to encourage travel (and inevitable
How Does Native Advertising Fit
Into the Marketing Mix?
Many brands struggle with how native ads should fit within
their larger marketing strategy. Native ads straddle several
tactics, including social engagement, owned media, and
of course, paid advertising. But how does it help a brand
achieve its objectives?
“When we think about the distribution, amplification and
ultimately, the engagement with content – that’s where
we think about our client’s goals,” says Edelman Digital’s Executive VP of Emerging
Media and Technology Adam Hirsch.
Hirsch notes ways in which native
advertising can assist a marketer
at the top of their funnel with
acquisition and brand awareness, as well as ways to generate
leads and conversions.
Brand building and awareness
are at the top of the traditional
sales funnel. Creating articles that run
in relevant publications can help make
customers aware of your products, services and
offerings. Publishing content in a Forbes, The New York
Times, or BuzzFeed environment delivers lots of attention
and possibly perception change or consideration regarding
products or offerings.
Sponsored content can generate conversions and create
leads. For example, social media in-stream ads can have
similar targeting ability to email and marketing automation, according to Hirsch.
“Facebook amplification has been pretty great for us
because you can optimize for engagement or conversions
that you can track,” says Hirsch. “[Facebook offers] content
that you’re able to amplify in a segmented and personalized
5. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
way. Through first-party targeting with their ‘custom audi-
“In ‘old school lead’ generation, depending on industry and
ences’ product, through third party use of pixels or retar-
company, the cost of leads can range from a few dollars
geting, Facebook is providing the ability to target users on
to thousands of dollars,” says Hirsch. “With hyper-targeted
exclusive social segmentation sets based on what they’re
networks, psychographic targeting and retargeting, you can
talking about or what their interests are.”
bring your cost-per-lead down significantly.” Measuring
results and seeing what types of content resonate on which
Native ads can also help your brand with bottom of the funnel
networks and platforms is an absolute must in native adver-
activity by converting existing and new customers. For
tising, as “best practices” are not yet established.
example, a brand can create sponsored content ads directed
specifically at Facebook users who are already customers.
You can also target via “look-alike” audiences who share
characteristics with your existing fans and customers.
The level of targeting is so sophisticated that, in Hirsch’s
words, “You have an opportunity to share an article about
your brand only to journalists who work at The New York
Times and Wall Street Journal or whatever stakeholder
audience you’re targeting.”
The Ecosystem of Native Advertising Providers
The native ad ecosystem includes content creators, such as
companies, brands and agencies, who create the content
either alone or in conjunction with the publishers, as well as
the search and social networks and vendors offering advertising space. This diagram shows how they work together.
Facebook also allows retargeting via its Exchange product.
If someone has come to your website to view a prod-
uct or service, you can retarget them so that when they
return to Facebook they receive an offer or message in the
native News Feed stream. Many Facebook targeting functions are offered in the updated advertising manager inter-
Forbes, Mashable, BuzzFeed etc.
Native ads "In-Feed"
face, but some require working with third party Facebook
Content RecommenContent Distribution dation, Outbrain,
Taboola, AddThis and
placed in-feed on
Twitter has similar offerings. The company announced
targeting based on interests in 2012 and recently launched
the ability to retarget users, and is expected to offer a custom
audience product similar to Facebook’s. For example, Twitter
empowers restaurants to automatically suggest themselves
to someone who is searching for dining recommendations.
Google, Bing, Yahoo,
results next to
inside the user's
main feed (FB Sponsored stories Twitter
around the Web"
Brands themselves Agencies
Publisher studios (like Huff
Post Partner Studio)
How much should you be spending on native advertising?
According to Edelman Digital’s Hirsch, it’s important to
allocate a reasonable budget to test out and get the most
impact out of native advertising.
Publishers are considered the media sites that create online
“When it comes to content amplification, start with a
content, with regular publication schedules and sizeable
$5,000-per-month budget minimum, no matter what size
audiences. Web properties such as The New York Times,
company you are,” says Hirsch. “You need enough money
Forbes, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Mashable all
in the budget to start testing what’s working. So every
have different ways of presenting and promoting native ad
month, optimize between networks, test on the networks
content to their audiences. The New York Times states that
themselves, and see what’s working to figure out your
native ads will have a color bar and the words “Paid Post”
optimal media mix.
3 See Vocus FB Guide for how to create custom audiences.
6. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
Forbes shows native ads under the branding “BrandVoice”
can get a lot of value. Some of them even have “studios” that
and the units can be seen on the lower portion of its home-
will help you create content without the six-figure budget.
page. Forbes BrandVoice partners use the masthead’s tools
to publish content. Their headlines and their posts – the
native ad content – flow though the content management
system onto Forbes.com.
Vendors are developing products to help brands place their
content adjacent to high quality editorials. An Altimeter
In anticipation of December 2013’s FTC hearing on
Group report on the native advertising landscape lists more
native advertising, Forbes published specific statistics on
than 40 vendors, including Outbrain, Taboola, AddThis,
its BrandVoice platform. DVorkin states, “1,100 total Brand-
Voice posts generated 821,000 social shares. Those actions
resulted in 565,000 social referrals to content [on the Forbes
There are two main types of content platforms – content
site]. Search referrals generated an additional 1.1 million
distribution and recommendation, and native feed insertion.
visits.” Partners had as many as 13,500 views per post,
with up to 120,000 monthly unique visitors to the content
Content distribution and recommendation platforms tend
published on Forbes’ site.
to show their content next to or below the main page content. They typically serve a widget that offers related con-
How much does a native ad campaign cost? According to
tent from within the site, as well as “From Around the Web.”
a Digiday report from June 2013, campaigns can
Users are targeted via cookies and other mechanisms, and
range from as little as $5,000 for a post on
the content is personalized based on previous clicks and the
Business Insider to as much as $100,000
context of the current page. Marketers bid on a cost-per-
for five posts on BuzzFeed. For example,
click basis and can analyze their traffic to optimize results.
The Huffington Post charges $40,000
for an article, but promotes it on their
site for four days. Such a promotion
would yield approximately 20 million
for referring traffic
widgets on sites like
how many audience members click
Websites are paid
impressions. However, it is not known
CNN, Time, and
through and read the content, nor what
actions they take.
Marketers pay on a
alternatives. “Consider working with ‘mid-shelf sites,’ with
with a $10 mini-
If publishing prices for top websites alarm you, there are
mum daily budget.
publishers who are experimenting,” says Edelman PR’s Steve
Rubel. “There are sites in the ‘mid-tail,’ below the ComScore
1000, and you can experiment in everything from newsletters to event co-branding.
“Content You May
“Webinars have a similar business model,” says Rubel. “If
Like” widgets on
revenue by hosting
you’re looking to experiment on big sites with a lower bud-
USA Today, TMZ
get, pick your spots with publishers that will drive some sort
and more. Video
of meaningful brand-building within that platform. If you
model, plus more
know that a BuzzFeed or Mashable is not going to cover you
at length, you could use budget to create a one-time boost
Targets users with
within that particular site.”
content, uses A/B
with dedicated sales
testing to improve
B2B and trade magazine sites are experimenting and you
7. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
Native-feed insertion companies like Nativo and Share-
on the Web for the bottom half of the funnel, but there aren’t
through let marketers place content right in the organic
great mechanisms for the top of the funnel, both in terms of
areas of the website, in the feed or on the main page of
creative that has impact and that’s scalable, and also is mea-
surable.” Nativo offers the ability to drop a retargeting pixel,
No minimum for
show “in-feed” on
mobile. Full service
Full service is a
desktop and mobile.
Targeting via DMA
anisms. Both vendors note that direct response can work
if the content shared has a specific response call-to-action.
Search and Social
In addition to the platforms that help brands put their messages adjacent to or within the context of a publishing site,
search engines and social networking sites provide a way
and Zip Geographic,
to put brand content in the main context of the user expe-
rience. Most web users are already familiar with the spon-
and contextual in
sored search results that appear on the top and right sides
verticals like busi-
of Google, Bing and Yahoo! search results pages. This is
ness or entertain-
probably one of the earliest and most ubiquitous examples
so companies can use their existing bottom-funnel mech-
of native ads, as it appears “integrated into the design of the
Works with limited
number of premium
device, control over
placement, real time
monitoring of time
spent with content.
Social networks have followed suit. From Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to LinkedIn, most of the major social networks have figured out a way to offer content from advertisers
where users previously expected content from friends.
buying, with a minimum spend around
$20K. Includes en-
many major pubs,
on desktop, mobile
and Content Unit
How It Works
• Page owner
Self-service via ad
and within mobile
Text, images, slide-
promotes a fan’s
shows and video
actions taken on a
page to amplify with
• Works with likes,
These networks put content right into partners’ site feeds.
Sharethrough’s Tom Channick, senior communications
manager, claims this is the most effective way to reach
people, especially on mobile. He suggests testing targeting
with different pieces of content, and monitoring results
to see what content works. The Sharethrough team has to
approve all content, since Channick says the company
doesn’t want their distribution platform to be sharing “belly
fat” and “lower mortgage” ads.
Nativo President Justin Choi says, “Native [ads] typically
focus on the top of the funnel. There are great mechanisms
check-ins, use of a
game, RSVP’ing to
an event, or posting
• Extensive targeting.
8. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
and Content Unit
How It Works
on Twitter and start promoting your Tweets if you have
no followers. Sponsored stories can help grow a brand’s
likes and followers, but only when the content resonates
• Shows as a spon-
sored picture within
only with brands
the native stream.
that have exten-
A sponsored story promoting a post that has little organic
traction will probably do poorly. Promoting content that
See Burberry and
is already being shared to a wider audience is a recipe
Michael Kors as
Content is Still King
Native advertising requires quality content.
tent delivers context, people gladly
embrace it as something worth-
while and useful. Furthermore,
• Targeted via inter-
est, gender, geog-
content to strict editorial stan-
raphy, by device,
dards. Not every message can
and via audience
be a textual article featured on
similarity to existing
Forbes or Mashable, and creat-
boosted to the top of ad management
stream, marked as
• Regular tweets,
ing content for both properties
Studies show that if sponsored con-
can cost a significant amount.
and content ads
• Promotes content
Via ad manager.
At the same time, creating singular
shared via a
Cadillac pieces also exposes companies
company page to
to risk of must-succeed situations.
a wider audience,
“Instead of creating one gigantic piece of content, try several;
use a PR post, link an article, post a Vine video, run them
through the platform and see what works,” says Share-
Rubel states, “For the social networks and search, this is their
entire business model. It’s no longer display. Their model is
effectively to integrate – to take the organic structure and
The media type also greatly affects how it is presented.
flip it around to an ad.”
“[Producers] put a can of Diet Coke on ‘American Idol’ and no
one complains,” says Rubel. “Or a radio DJ gives away tickets
“LinkedIn is a huge opportunity, especially for specific types
to a concert and plugs it, no one complains. The closer you
of companies or specific types of messages from those com-
are to entertainment-based or lifestyle content, the more
panies, whether it’s for a B2B or B2C audience,” says Hirsch.
the lines get blurry and the deeper the topic can be inte-
“There are a lot of key audiences you can target directly from
grated, provided it’s not a product review type of post.”
LinkedIn for content amplification from company pages. Its
usage is dramatically increasing across Edelman, with the
“I think that’s giving BuzzFeed the ability to really do that in
product out only for the last three months or so. It’s a new
earnest because a lot of the ways they integrate brands is
‘owned’ media channel for content amplification.”
through lifestyle content,” says Rubel. “Native ads get most
disruptive the closer they are to being straight up advertorial
Anyone can create ads on social networks, but smart brands
in nature, and interruptive as opposed to additive. The
leverage their existing presence. For example, don’t jump
efficacy of that remains to be seen.”
9. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
Creating great amounts of content often isn’t “native” to
challenging to know how much they need to disclose, and
midsized companies or smaller brands. They may be used
for consumers to understand how much an advertiser has
to creating brochures, posting blog posts or even sharing
played a role in presenting content to them.”
content on networks. But some of these new formats, along
with the corresponding content types and targeting, will
Some publications clearly denote content is sponsored.
Other sites are less forthcoming. Another challenge, claims
Chernaik, is that people use different words to describe
Rebecca Lieb notes in the Altimeter Group report that
the ad units, such as “sponsored” or “promoted” when they
education and training will be required. Marketers need to
really mean “advertisement.” “The industry needs to step up,
apply skillsets like strategy, content, media buying and a
or a regulator needs to say ‘This is what we expect,’ and it’s
social component. For companies that don’t have the staff
often better if the industry steps up,” adds Chernaik.
to handle content creation or who wish to outsource it,
publishers like The Huffington Post provide “studios” to
Consider Forbes’ “BrandVoice,” which
create content on behalf of advertisers. The company has
is marked at the top of articles and
staff separate from the journalists and video creators who
has a disclosure link that states,
work with brands and agencies.
marketers to connect directly
“The native advertising space relies on catchy headlines, and
with the Forbes audience by
it’s important [to] write content that people really want to
enabling them to create con-
access,” says Tom Chernaik, CEO of CMP.LY, a monitoring,
tent – and participate in the
measurement and insight tool company. Chernaik is also
conversation – on the Forbes
co-chair of the Member’s Ethics Advisory Panel at the Word
digital publishing platform.”
of Mouth Marketing Association. “What’s driving all of this
Will the FTC accept the phrasing
is that content gets shared by people. You want to make
“Connecting marketers to the
sure that it’s clear where the content comes from.”
Forbes audience” instead of “sponsored content?” It remains to be seen.
Adding a social dimension of amplification to the content
that’s being shared natively is another point made by Lieb,
The previously mentioned “IAB Native Advertising Play-
Rubel and Hirsch. Having content seen once is a benefit.
book” takes some of the first steps towards industry self-reg-
Having it shared many times can reduce your overall cost
ulation by publishing disclosure principles, which state that
of customer acquisition.
“The disclosure must use language that conveys that the
advertising has been paid for.” The FTC also states advertise-
Disclosure and Challenges
ments “must be large and visible enough for the consumer to
“Consumers, overall, are responding very well to native
device the ad is being viewed on.”
notice it in the context of a given page and/or relative to the
ads, and that’s why it’s such an appealing area for
advertisers,” says Chernaik. However, the FTC
is asking questions to protect consumers.
Consumers should be able to distinguish between paid
advertising and editorial content. The problems can extend
to content when it leaves the publisher’s site.
The commission held a meeting in
Washington, D.C. last December to
Chernaik noted that if something is showing on a page,
explore these issues. “How clear do you
there may be disclosures, but in a feed or on someone’s
need to make it, and when do you need
timeline, it may not be clear to consumers, which is where
to make it clear that something is actu-
the FTC may step in. He warns, “People are focusing on it as
ally sponsored content?” asks Chernaik.
an ad medium, and you get tripped up when you look at it
“Since there’s no standard way to disclose
as ads. The component that makes it so compelling isn’t the
it, or to present the information, it becomes
ad component, it’s the word-of-mouth component. That
5 Chart on Page 11, http://www.altimetergroup.com/2013/09/new-research-defining-and-mapping-the-native-advertising-landscape.html
10. The Comprehensive Guide to Native Advertising
wasn’t addressed in the FTC workshop. It’s the buzz that
Services like Outbrain, AddThis and others offer self-service
builds around the content that drives native advertising, not
ways to promote content in the context of large publisher’s
the content presentation.”
sites without having to directly deal with the publishers and
their budget minimums. Bid-based marketplaces encour-
The FTC has not taken formal action yet, but since
age experimentation and give marketers a chance to hone
they’ve previously issued guidance on making
their messages and content types while controlling spend.
blog and celebrity endorsements more clear,
These services can help make an already popular post more
it is reasonable to think they will monitor the
widely shareable. Nativo, Sharethrough and others put
native ad ecosystem with similar vigilance.
brand content right into the feed on multiple publishers’
sites, with targeting and analytics to measure the results.
“The real question,” says Edelman’s Rubel, “is
‘What does the reader want?’ I know what the
technology vendors, publishers, and advertisers
Using analytics and setting key performance indicators
(KPIs) will help you evaluate all the offerings discussed.
want from native advertising. I don’t necessarily
know what the audience wants from this yet.”
As a marketer, it will be more important than ever to test
multiple content formats. Will native advertising result in
Research shows the efficacy of native ads. According to
the promised payoff of higher engagement and interaction
a study by Interpublic Group’s IPG Media Lab and Share-
– as much as 39 percent higher in some cases? Only your
through, consumers looked at sponsored content 52 per-
own tests, metrics and KPIs will answer that question.
cent more frequently than banner ads. Native ads generated
9 percent higher brand affinity lift and 18 percent higher
One thing is for sure – 2014 is definitely the year to try
purchase intent response than banners.
Consider how you can apply native ads to your larger
marketing stream. Ask the right questions: Will they help
convert sales? Or will you use them to amplify and build
social brand and content marketing activities?
Once you decide, consider your options from the increasingly rich world of native advertising providers. Search
and social networks may be the easiest entry points into
sponsored content for brands. Many of these choices, from
Facebook’s ads and Twitter’s Promoted Tweets to LinkedIn’s Sponsored Updates are self-service offerings. These
social networks offer guides and case studies that explain
best practices and walk marketers through the steps needed
to execute a campaign. Native units are most helpful to
brands that already have a presence on the networks and
who know how their users respond to content.
Working with publishers can be a potentially expensive
endeavor unless you find a site that’s willing to work with a
smaller brand. Look for more midrange sites to offer sponsored content opportunities to attract first-time buyers.
Most publications have or are planning an offering on their
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