The Native Ad Opportunity: How the Best Campaigns Run Native Ads

Posted by WhatRunsWhere on March 19, 2015
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Last week we talked about the growing native advertising opportunity and how it’s affecting the competitive landscape. We talked about why there’s been so much growth for native advertising – a digital ad strategy that promotes the brand by being embedded into its context. Native ads, after all, are non-interruptive paid ads so harmonious with the surrounding page’s content that viewers believe they simply belong there.

But when it comes to native advertising, there’s plenty left to learn.

From selecting the top publisher, to producing truly engaging content, and identifying the best ad format to use – making the right decisions can be overwhelming for new and experienced advertisers, alike.

This week, we’re going to breakdown several examples of impactful native advertising campaigns. We’ll analyze the methodology of some of the most successful native ad campaigns seen to date, and show you how to use competitive intelligence data to get a leg up on the competition.


Types of Successful Native Advertising Campaigns

Native advertising is really an umbrella term used to describe a variety of ad types that can be classified into three categories:

  • In-feed ads
  • Promoted listings and
  • Custom ads

There are numerous sub-categories of native ad formats too, which only adds to the complexity of the native ad landscape.

Predominantly used for promoting brand engagement, advertisers use native advertising in diverse ways. While some may be aiming for higher brand recognition, others may be more concerned with driving conversions.

Let’s break the complex native advertising landscape down a little further to see exactly how top advertisers are employing native advertising – and what it means for their strategy.

In-Feed Ads

With in-feed ads, brands can provide engaging content to viewers who already have a vested interest in the publishers they’re placed on. Most importantly, the native ads have to be relevant to the publisher and surrounding content. There are three key ways an advertiser can capitalize on in-feed ads: branded content, sponsored content, and recommendation widgets.

Branded Content

Branded content is when the advertiser is acting as its own content creator, and simply placing the content on a third party publisher under their brand name. Here are a couple examples from Oracle on Forbes – through ForbesBrandVoice – and Purina on Buzzfeed:


Advertisers can sign up through ForbesBrandVoice – a section of their site that is completely dedicated to branded content put there by the individual advertisers. This is put to great use by Oracle to reach a broader audience and establish a place in the business and technology landscape. They employ hashtags, case studies, and list-icles, to resonate with the viewers at Forbes – who are used to seeing these tactics in everyday content.


Purina’s partnership with Buzzfeed is one of the most well-known – viewers get excited about it and they engage. With various lists, articles, and videos, all promoting the benefits of having a pet (chalk full of puppy pictures), these are positive, fun, and socially shareable pieces of content.

Sponsored Content

Although it shares similarities with branded content, sponsored content is different in that it’s backed by the brand but created by the publisher. It’s the publisher’s editorial team that works with the brand to develop content which relates to their viewers as well as the brand’s target audience.

For example, SaaS product Beagle sponsors content on Digiday to establish themselves as an IT industry thought leader:


Digiday manages to achieve two goals through their use of a sponsored Digiday post:

  • Show themselves as a key source of knowledge in their industry
  • Entice people to sign up – but without being distracting

By working directly with the publisher, Digiday released a long-form, high-quality piece of content. The sole purpose of the article is to inform and teach viewers. There is no CTA or apparent sales message. But this doesn’t mean they can’t still pitch for the conversion elsewhere. Using a display-type ad on the right hand side of their article, Beagle’s still able to advertise their service as a special promotion for Digiday readers. The CTA ‘try it now’ is clear, and it’s obvious this is a leads generation tactic. However, with the ad off to the side and not in the content where it may be interruptive, the quality of the piece is not jeopardized.

Recommendation Links/Widgets

A good recommendation widget directs viewers from their current publisher to third-party sites with related content or promotions. This is generally automated through ad networks like Outbrain or Taboola. Both Time and Forbes successfully place recommendation widgets, as shown below:


These recommendations have a general theme of savings and finance. Since they come at the end of a sales-oriented article, they’re highly relevant to the potential viewer.


Similarly, these recommendations are seen after an article in the Health section of Time. Therefore links for haircuts and workout habits are likely to grab viewer interest.

With these widgets advertisers can reach an exponentially higher number of quality viewers who are clicking through from publisher content that is directly related to the advertiser’s content.

It is important to note that recommendation widgets can lead to third party content, or just to third party promotions and landing pages. There is no set-in-stone rule, and many advertisers disguise their promotions with a title that appears as if it is content.

Custom Ads

This form of native advertising can take so many shapes, it’s difficult to pinpoint it sometimes. Consider it as brand-promoted content that exists in an unconventional manner that is completely tailored to the nature of the site. A well-known example of custom native ads is Coca Cola’s integration with Spotify.


Through multiple playlists on online music player Spotify, Coca Cola successfully positions themselves as youth-oriented, trend setting, and adaptive. Though they’ve been around for decades, they still manage to come across as fresh and forward thinking, being one of the first brands to take advantage of online services like this. A notable benefit to customized playlists is that it is content that viewers will tune into again-and-again. And each time they do come back, this fun, exciting image of Coca Cola is reinforced.

Promoted Listings

Through promoted listings, advertisers can promote specific products that directly correspond with what the viewer is looking at. They differ the most from the traditional notion of a native ad in that they’re typically not pushing brand engagement or a soft sell, but more-so the actual purchase of a product. See how brands like and leverage the viewers on Amazon’s women’s shoes page to promote their own related products.


The key benefit of this is a very small wait time to see conversion. If these links click through to a well-optimized landing page, a conversion is more likely to happen because the ad and product relates to what viewers were already actively looking for on the site that housed the promoted link. These ads show the brand to a wider range of people, but also generate hot leads that are more quickly pushed through the sales process than other forms of native advertising.

What’s to be Learned from Top Native Campaigns?

From the native campaigns analyzed, it’s evident that the best native strategies follow these golden rules:

  1. Seamless ad integration

In every campaign examined we’ve seen a pattern of ad placements that effortlessly assimilate the ad into its contextual surroundings. In other words, the ad’s behaviour must fit.

  1. Full ad disclosure

Despite thematically or behaviourally ‘fitting’ in with its context, native ads should transparently express that they’re adverts. This falls in line with the idea that native ads are most effective because they enrich the consumer’s online experience, rather than disturb it.

  1. Aligned advertiser and publisher objectives

The best native ad placements ensure that the goals of advertisers and publishers are mutually supported to deliver relevant and valuable content to viewers who, at the end of the day, are and potential consumers.

If audiences view native ads 53% more often than banner ads and consumer purchase intent is 53% higher than traditional forms, clearly there are plenty of upsides to choosing native. Plus initial costs can be fairly low. But due to the varied approaches to native advertising that exist, a lot of money can subsequently be wasted in testing to figure out the best publisher and ad format for your campaigns.

So what do you need to know? Three words: Content Discovery Networks. Stay tuned next week for our third installment of the Native Ad Opportunity where we’ll tell you why understanding Content Discovery Networks is crucial to driving real success in the shifting digital ad landscape.




Topics: Digital Advertising, Native Advertising, Competitive Intelligence, Strategy


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