December 15, 2014

Written By Thomas Roos

Part 2: Native Advertising Discussed 

Part one of this paper discussed the rise of native advertising and how it is a result of paradigm shifts in consumer culture as a whole, as well as of developments within the online marketing field. This part will further elaborate on how native advertising is practiced and eventually discuss native advertising in terms of its success, and its limitations. To conclude with I raise the question that I could not answer in this paper, but should be of interest of anyone that has genuine interest in the field of internet marketing and branding. 

Empirical data analysis: Native advertising.

The consumer annoyance and scepticism towards advertisements, advertisers and capitalist practices in general as described in part 1 have forced online marketers in a new direction: native marketing. Native advertising, as explained in this infographic about native advertising by Wasserman (2012), is the creation of high-quality content by brands which is placed “…into the organic experience of a given platform.’’ Perhaps a simpler definition of the concept was given by Keers (2013), on the Content Marketing Association blog: “…instead of a simple, same-everywhere ad, it is targeted content, sitting alongside the publisher's content, but produced by brands themselves.”

The essence of native advertising is that it answers the consumers’ demand for valuable content from brands, whether they are the targeted audience or not. Holt (2002) argues that in the post-postmodern paradigm, consumers will judge brands and their ads on how they add value to people when they are not customers. Samuel Johnson once said: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.’’, and this research provided reason to believe that the same mantra will define brand perception in the post-postmodern internet era. Native advertisements make a clear step into that direction, which is perhaps the reason why they work so well.

A second important strategic advantage of native advertising is that it offers value to both brands and publishers, as well as to different platforms. As Miller, the CEO of The Guardian Media Group (in this case: the platform) puts it: "There's an opportunity to work with advertisers on creating content that meets the editorial aspirations of ourselves and meets their need to get to consumers." {C}(Jackson, 2014){C}. What is being created is thus ‘branded content’ instead of simple advertisements.

{C}{C}{C}To illustrate this, an example is provided that came up during the empirical research online. The picture below shows a BuzzFeed article, and on the surface it seems like another entertaining BuzzFeed article (click on the image to view the full page). Who posted it? It was posted by Captain Morgan, and looking at the marked text in the description, its purpose is not just to entertain you{C} (Muniz & Schau, 2011){C}; it is there to educate consumers about the man behind the rum. On the side, we can find more ‘sponsored content’ from Captain Morgan. Evidently, the success of one such native ad is to create content that 1) enhances brand equity, 2) adds to the publisher’s / platform’s value, and most importantly; 3) is valuable for the audience that needs to be engaged.  

Figure : Native Advertising in practice; Captain Morgan offering valuable content on Buzzfeed.

Native Marketing explained

Native Marketing explained

Buzzfeed, Forbes, The Atlantic, Facebook, The New Yorker, etc; they all have developed a version of native advertising, called ‘sponsored content’, of which the above is an example. Buzzfeed runs completely on the gains from native advertising; not only do they encourage advertisers to settle in between the website contributors, (the regular visitors), but they also offer help to potential and existing advertisers to create content that is likely to be shared often by BuzzFeed users.

An overview of the main players in the native advertising field is provided in this map of native advertising platforms, and was taken from a 2013 article (Berry, 2013), and therefore not completely up to date. However, it accurately shows the division between different native advertising channels. Please note that more players joined this landscape since the map was made, however, the main players have remained more or less the same (Berry, 2013):

  • Sponsored Posts and Articles: Facebook and BuzzFeed (and newspapers)
  • Sponsored Video: YouTube and ShareThrough
  • Sponsored Images: Imgur and TripleLift
  • Sponsored Playlists: Pandora (mainly U.S) and Spotify (mainly Europe)
  • Sponsored Links: Disqus and Zemanta (many more have emerged)
  • Sponsored Listings: Uncrate and Yelp


In a study that was published on February 12th 2014, The Media Briefing (Taylor, 2014) investigated the traffic around these native ads and provided this study with interesting data collected from 689 BuzzFeed native ads posted by 51 companies.

The results (average ad shares per social platform) are astonishing:

  • 263 Facebook shares
  • 36 Tweets
  • 7 Google ‘plus one’s’
  • 44 Pins
  • 2 Linkedin shares

Additional outcomes of the study:

  • Native advertising on BuzzFeed is likely to result in 4241 total social media interactions.
  • Spotify’s native ad wins: 8530 Facebook shares, resulting in almost 50.000 Facebook interactions, including likes and comments.

According to The Media Briefing (2014), it can therefore be argued that BuzzFeed’s native advertising strategy is a tremendous success simply because advertisers love the idea that consumers will share an ad on their social network platforms. Why? It turns out that the earlier-mentioned Word of Mouth is of vital importance for gaining trustworthiness, and therefore is much more likely to lead to an increase in sales (see table 1 below). “That these services enable only the sharing of content on the Web is not important here. What is important is that they allow simultaneous sharing in reality.(Akar & Topcu, 2011, p.39).

A 2012 study conducted by The Nielsen Company (2013) indicated advertising in the form of word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family continued to be the strongest factor triggering action among 84% of 29.000 global respondents from 58 countries (table on the next page).


Table 1: Nielsen Global Survey of Trust in Advertising, Questionnaire 1-2013 (Nielsen, 2013)

Native Marketing explained

Native Marketing explained


A brief Critique and suggestions for research.

Some critique is being raised about native advertising as a new form of online advertising.  Listed below are the most commonly raised issues:

  • Many platforms may not have the capacity to handle the growing amount of native advertising, even though they say they can (Kantrowitz, 2013).
  • It is generally hard to tell whether native advertising is more successful than conventional banner methods, as they are used at different scales.
  • Joe McCambley, who helped creating the first banner ad, says that native advertising might destroy journalism, as “You are gambling with the contract you have with your readers,” and “How do I know who made the content I am looking at and what the value of the information is?” (Carr, 2013).
  • There are ethical questions being raised about the extent to which for instance The New Yorker is fooling their audience and breaching the contract of offering valuable and trustworthy content.

The scope of this paper leaves no room for discussion of the above, therefore it is suggested that further research should be done towards the limitations of native advertising, in terms of scalability as well as in terms of ethical issues.



Web 2.0 has made a significant impact on the power relations between brands and their audience, and native advertising is one answer to this paradigm shift. Online advertisers now find themselves on thin ice, as the “…web-based power struggles between marketer and consumer brand authors challenge accepted branding truths and paradigms: where short-term brands can trump long-term icons, where marketing looks more like public relations, where brand building gives way to brand protection, and brand value is driven by risk, not returns. (Fournier & Avery, 2011, p.193). This paper confirms that advertisers will always be looking for better ways to reach their audiences, and that those who are most adaptive to change will always be upfront.



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