Native Advertising vs Sponsored Content: What’s the Difference? (2023)

In the crowded online world of ecommerce, it can be hard to get a potential customer’s attention. After all, banner ads debuted nearly 30 years ago, and their click-through rates these days are less than half a percent. Today’s consumers are savvy, but there must be a better way to spread the word about your business than traditional ads. 

And there is: native advertising. This form of advertising began before the web as “advertorials” in periodicals that blurred the line between editorial copy and ads. Native advertising is now one of the most important ways for businesses to reach a wider audience. One particularly compelling type of native advertising is sponsored content. 

What is native advertising?

Native advertising is a type of paid media that appears on a website or publication in the same format as editorial content. Native ads can be anything from full articles on a news outlet’s website to promoted search results (a.k.a. sponsored ads) on search engine results pages. Native advertising is typically produced by the client or its marketing agency, but some publications create native advertising content in-house.

Types of native advertising

Native advertising can be any type of marketing material that appears in the same format as the content it’s served alongside. Here are some examples of the most common types of native advertising:

Sponsored content

While native advertising and sponsored content are sometimes differentiated, sponsored content is actually a type of native advertising. Sponsored content is native advertising that is developed in conjunction with (or wholly by) the publisher, with the financial support and editorial input of the client or advertising business.

In-feed social media ads

Social media ads look almost exactly like user-generated social media content, but you pay to have the post appear in the feed of your target audience. In-feed ads are available across social media platforms. For example, an in-feed ad on Instagram might feature an aspirational image and intriguing caption—but it would also have a “Sponsored” tag and a button to “Shop Now.”

Promoted listings or search results

Paid search ads typically show up at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) and are tied to specific keywords that describe a product. Promoted listings might be targeted to searches related to a type of industry (such as legal services or arts and entertainment events), or to a location (for instance, “bakeries in my town,” or “nearby accountants”). These are a popular type of paid advertising and can be an effective tool in your digital marketing strategy.

What is sponsored content?

Sponsored content is a type of native advertising. With sponsored content, the advertiser is typically not the one responsible for content creation. Instead, the publication is paid to produce the content entirely—or the advertiser works with the publication and its writers, finding a message and tone that fits with the surrounding content.

Sponsored content is intended to be mutually beneficial. The story contains information that is helpful or interesting to the publisher’s target audience, and it also spreads the word about the company to potential new customers. This type of content tends to be high-quality content, which, in turn, is rewarded by higher click-through rates than other types of advertising. Sponsored content can also get around ad blockers

Because sponsored content is specific to the publication, it can be more expensive than some other types of advertising.

Examples of sponsored content

Sponsored content is common across a variety of platforms, from magazines on the coffee table in your dentist’s office to the sponsored posts you scroll past on Twitter.

Influencer posts

To engage your target audience on social media, you can work with influencers to create content that fits your brand. For example, health product brand Healthish incorporated influencer marketing to reach new audiences without disrupting each user’s experience. The influencer created a video showcasing how they worked the brand’s product (a bottle that tracks your daily water intake) into their morning routine.

Sponsored articles

BuzzFeed has possibly perfected the art of sponsored content. Sponsored articles like “10 Colorful Clothing Picks From Target For Anyone Who’s So Ready For Spring” leverage BuzzFeed’s recognizable listicle style and appear alongside the rest of the brand’s content. The sponsored article aims to fit the interests of the site’s readers, and aside from the “Paid Post” and “Brand Publisher” tags, the article is nearly indistinguishable from the publisher’s non-paid website content. 

Native advertising vs. sponsored content

Sponsored content is a type of native advertising. Like all types of native advertising it appears in the format of the publisher’s editorial content. A key difference between sponsored content and other types of native advertising is who creates the content (your company versus the publisher). It’s the publisher who creates sponsored content—usually with input or guidelines from the sponsor.

Other types of native advertising can be more effective for generating leads, because clicks can go directly to your blog or ecommerce platform. Alternatively, sponsored content may be more effective at raising brand awareness; it’s designed to appeal to its audience more genuinely, but since there isn’t always a clear call to action, it may not lead directly to sales.

Native advertising vs. sponsored content FAQ

Is native advertising the same as sponsored content?

Sponsored content is a type of native advertisement. It is produced hand-in-hand with the publisher, which may be a social media influencer, a news site, a YouTube channel, or a magazine.

Why should I use native advertising?

Native advertising is designed to bypass a potential customer’s tendency to ignore typical ads. It’s less intrusive than traditional advertising, but it still provides you with the opportunity to build brand awareness and generate leads.

How do you know if content is sponsored?

For articles, check the byline or above the title for a “Sponsored” tag. The same goes for social media. Most sites will include the word “Sponsored” above paid content, and influencers who accept payment to create content typically differentiate it with a hashtag like #ad or #sponsored.

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