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


Friday, November 13, 2020 9:50 PM

A question we get asked a lot at team inPowered is this – what’s the difference between native advertising and sponsored content? While both are forms of paid media strategies that are designed to blend into “editorial content” on a blog or webpage, both serve a specific form and function that differ from each other.  This week we’re breaking down the basics behind what each of these marketing tactics actually mean, and how brands can utilize each one to enhance their digital awareness and affinity.

Native advertising is defined as a type of advertising that mimics the stylization and layout of the platform, appearing as a video, article, or editorial-style article in the form of paid placement. Native ads often contain a minimal amount of copy specifically written to garner consumer attention, and then link to a specific piece of content the brand is intending for users to see. This could be a sponsored article, an item listed for sale, or a link to a business or website. It typically features a call-to-action that once clicked upon, it will then provide some sort of value exchange for the consumer in order to continue their engagement with the content. Native advertising also provides unique metrics to marketers regarding the number of views the content receives, clicks and consumer engagement. This information can then be used for analysis of content effectiveness, as well as for A/B testing to compare different copy/image/headlines. The IAB defines six different ways that native ads can appear in format:

  • In-feed ads
  • Paid search ads
  • Recommendation widgets
  • Promoted listings
  • In-ad with native element units
  • Customize content

On the flip side, sponsored content is described as a type of native advertising that does not directly operate as an “advertisement.” Typically, sponsored content is a long-form piece of paid branded media that lives on a publisher’s website, often referred to as an “advertorial.” While it often appears as a video or piece of written content, its intention is to tell a story or further assert thought leadership. There are two ways sponsored content typically is formulated, usually by the publisher of the website or the brand marketer. Like other forms of native advertising, sponsored content can initially look like an organic part of the website however it’s clearly identified as “sponsored” or “promoted” content. It also typically features a call to action, intended to draw readers to further engage with a link bringing consumers directly to the product or offering being promoted. Sponsored content usually appears in the form of:

  • Articles
  • Listicles
  • Videos
  • Photos or infographics.
  • Sponsored Tweets
  • Carousel Ads

So, when would you choose native advertising versus sponsored content?

While they may be paid advertisements, native ads serve up the relevant and educational content customers are searching for, especially during COVID-19. Their “native” placement also provides an excellent bypass for marketers when it comes to typical ad blocking measures. Native ads are highly visual, and more likely to be shared as a result. They also tend to appear alongside other types of content, which makes them less disruptive to users. Since they look and feel like the content consumers are already engaging with, they’re more likely to spend longer amounts of time with them.

On the other hand, sponsored content works well because it provides information for customers who are interested without distracting or disturbing individuals who aren’t. It’s ideal for today’s climate where users will abandon websites if they’re bombarded with ads they cannot click out of. Sponsored content also enables brands to tell longer-form, compelling stories – there’s only so much information you can convey by employing a banner ad or brief video.

Which tactic do you typically employ or works best for your marketing strategy? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

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