Is native advertising the answer to increasing ad avoidance?

Written by: Christina Hajszan




“The secret behind really good native advertising is that no one is really aware of it.”

(Campbell & Marks, 2015, p. 600)


Internet user’s aversion to online advertisements

As consumers today are exposed to an immense number of offline as well as online advertisements, avoidance of these contents is a likely consequence. Advertising avoidance in general, as defined by Speck & Elliot (1997) refers to a media user’s significant reduction of their exposure to advertising content. A study done by Cho & Cheon (2004) found that the main reasons for online ad avoidance are (1) perceived goal impediment as ads are intrusive during a goal-direct search online, (2) the excessive amount of ads online and (3) prior negative experiences with online ads. Speck & Elliot (1997) further differentiate between behavioral and mechanical ad avoidance. In online contexts, behavioral avoidance occurs through scrolling over ads without paying attention to their content while mechanical avoidance refers to the use of ad blocking software. Cho & Cheo (2004) added the third dimension cognitive avoidance which refers to intentionally ignoring an ad.   

One of the most popular programs related to mechanical ad avoidance is the browser extension ‘Adblock’ or ‘AdBlock Plus’. Once it is installed it automatically blocks almost all advertisements formats on the visited websites. In January 2015 more than 181 Million global users were reported to actively use some kind of ad blocking software which represents an increase of almost 50% compared to the previous year. It is estimated that in 2015 the use of ad blocking was responsible for a $21.8 billion loss in global revenue. (Pagefair & Adobe, 2015) Therefore, ad avoidance in all its forms poses a serious threat to companies and online advertising. 

Native advertising on the rise

To overcome the avoidance and aversion to online ads, the need for better integration of online advertising emerged, which was when the term ‘native advertising’ was coined. The term had gained attention from 2012 on but was missing a clear definition on what it includes and what it excludes. Therefore, as the industry had awaited a precise definition of the term, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) launched guidelines in the format of the ‘Native Advertising Playbook’ in 2013 to provide advertisers, publishers and marketers with a transparent framework and understanding of the topic. (IAB, 2013) The IAB defines native advertising as 

“[…] paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.” 

(IAB, 2013, p. 3) 

Campbell & Marks (2015) take the understanding one step further and describe native advertising as online in-stream marketing measures that minimize possible disruptions to the online experience in which it is placed and are often desired by the online user. 

Even though the prospected spending for digital advertising is about to hit an all-time high (Huddleston, 2015), the rising number of ad blockers indicates that the aversion to online ads is growing. The industry had recently picked up on the issue by introducing the term ‘native advertising’, however, the question arises if this is an effective measure to fight the aversion to online advertising? Approaching the issue, this article will mainly focus on mechanical ad avoidance in the form of ad blocking to answer the posed question. 

Types of native advertisements

To get a better understanding of this development, the IAB defined the following six online formats to be considered as native ads. (IAB, 2013) 

1. In-feed units

 This type of native advertising appears within the streams of the site and mirrors a typical post. In-feed units are often seen on social networking sites such as Facebook or News websites. The user can either be directed to another website or read, view and watch the paid content on the visited platform without having to leave it. Commonly used disclosure language for this type of content is ‘advertisement’, ‘ad’, ‘sponsored’, ‘promoted’ or similar. (IAB, 2013) A study found that 72.8% of online users who have consumed sponsored content state, that it has equal or even greater value than non-sponsored content on the same website. (Grensing-Pophal, 2014)

In-feed native ad: The New York Times and Netflix

Source: Deziel, 2014

One of the most referenced examples for well crafted native advertising is a collaboration between The New York Times and Netflix to promote the Netflix series ‘Orange is the New Black’. The article labelled ‘Paid Post’ appears just like any other news article on the publisher’s site. At the end of the article a disclaimer states: ‘The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in this post's preparation.’ ensuring that the readers are informed that this content is not crafted by the publisher. (Deziel, 2014; Oetting, 2015)

2. Paid search units

 Paid search ads appear along with organic search results within search engines and look just like the surrounding organic results. (IAB, 2013)

Native paid search unit: Google

Source: Almeida, 2014

The example above demonstrates that the paid search unit appears just like an organic search result, but is clearly marked as an ad. (Almeida, 2014)

3. Recommendation widgets

 While in-feed units appear within the stream of the visited website, recommendation units do not aim to mirror the editorial content and often appear at the end of an article, based on the content the user is currently reading. Usually labelled as ‘recommended for you’ or ‘you might also like’ recommendation widgets link to a page off the visited website. (IAB, 2013) 66.1% of internet users stated that they perceived recommended content at the end of articles the most useful form of native advertising. (Grensing-Pophal, 2014)

Native recommendation widget: Business Insider

Source: Business Insider UK, 2016

Based on the article(s) the online user has been reading, Business Insider creates a number of recommended readings that fit one’s preferences. (Business Insider UK, 2016)

4. Promoted listings

 This type of native advertising is mostly seen on websites that usually do not have an editorial content stream such as e-commerce sites like Ebay or Etsy. (IAB, 2013)

Promoted listings: Etsy

Source: Handmadeology, 2015

Etsy, a peer-to-peer e-commerce website (Etsy, 2016), serves as a good example on how promoted listings appear on e-commerce websites. 

5. In-ad (with native elements) units

While this type of ad looks just like a classic banner ad it distinguishes itself by containing highly relevant content that relates to the respective website’s content. (IAB, 2013)

In-ad (with native elements) unit:

Source: Almeida, 2014

The cooking and recipe platform provides a good example on how to integrate this type of native ad by posting a relevant banner ad that relates to the website’s content. (Almeida, 2014)

6. Custom

As native advertising is constantly evolving, there are not always specific limits as to what can be depicted as native and what is certainly excluded from this type. Therefore, this section refers to certain ads that, by their advertising form and aim, can be described as native ad forms but do not clearly fit in above mentioned advertising types. (IAB, 2013)

What is the difference between display and native ads? 

As native advertising formats are still labelled as ads, one might wonder what differentiates them from traditional online ads. Display ads appear in a pre-defined place on a website, usually as digital banners. While the set-up and tracking is fairly easy, these ads look very standardized, are not necessarily relevant to the browsed website and potentially interrupt the user’s online experience. (Burkholder, 2015) 

Native ads on the other hand provide the reader with an ad format that seamlessly integrates into the editorial content and focuses on an uninterrupted content experience. (Burkholder, 2015)

Native ads vs. banner ads

Source: Sharethrough & IPG Media Lab, 2013

A study conducted by Sharethrough and IPG Media labs revealed that online users look at native ads 53% more frequently than compared to classic display ads. The study also found that native ads are more likely to be perceived as editorial content and are equally visually engaging to the user. Furthermore, native ads experienced a 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 32% of the consumers said that they would recommend the ad to friends or family as compared to 19% for display ads. (Sharethrough & IPG Media, 2013). Even more, 70% of consumers are looking to learn something new through content as opposed to classic display ad methods. (MDG Advertising, 2014)

Mechanical ad avoidance: Ad blocking

To be able to assess the potential threat of mechanical avoidance in the form of ad blocking, one needs to understand how ad blocking works. Essentially, ad blocking works by scanning a visited website for underlying domains and sites against a filter list which includes predefined subdomains that are meant to be blocked. If listed sites are found on the particular website, the software blocks them from appearing, consequently suppressing the ad to show. (Kolowich, 2015)

While ad blocking has numerous benefits for consumers such as the blocking of unwanted ads, faster page load times and a potential reduction in data usage, ad blocking has a high impact on advertisers and their practices. (Shewan, 2015) While ad blocking affects the advertisers themselves as they are unable to forward their message, it also affects website owners that rely on ads to keep their website running. Often, advertisers pay the websites on view, impression or click basis, which indicates that advertisers only pay if users have seen the ad and engaged in any of the mentioned practices. (Walbesser, 2011)

While there are plentiful advocates of native advertising, critics attack native advertising to be deceptive and misleading which caused an ethical discussion to start. In December 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) addressed this ethical issue and released guidelines on native advertising to prevent native ads from being deceptive. The FTC focuses on the consumer’s ability to differentiate a native ad from other content and set up guidelines on how to disclose native ads. (Federal Trade Commission, 2015)

The Commission has long held the view that advertising and promotional messages that are not identifiable as advertising to consumers are deceptive if they mislead consumers into believing they are independent, impartial, or not from the sponsoring advertiser itself.“ (Federal Trade Commission, 2015, p.1)

The guidelines state that native advertising needs to by accompanied by clear disclosure language to not mislead the consumer as to what the source of the content is. (Federal Trade Commission, 2015)

Native advertising has long been seen as the answer to fight ad blockers, as advertisers hoped for the content to not be detected as an ad by ad blocking software. However, strict regulations and the constant improvement of ad blocking software increase the chances of native ads being blocked just like any other online ad. (Rodnitzky, 2016)

Does native advertising have the power to minimize the aversion to ads? 

After the FTC’s release of ad guidelines, native advertising has only limited power to bypass ad blockers, which is why advertisers have little hope in native advertising to fight mechanical ad avoidance. However, various studies, as mentioned in this article, found that online consumers react more positively to native advertisements than to classic display ads. This development demonstrates that the seamless integration of ad content into the online experience is not only less intrusive and disturbing, but often even appreciated by consumers as personalized advertisement has the possibility to hit the target just at the right spot. 

While the rising number of ad block users does not provide a great outlook for online advertisements in general, the fact that online ads are constantly being improved to better integrate into their surroundings may lead online users in 2016 to develop a better attitude towards online advertising and challenge consumer’s cognitive and behavioral ad avoidance right from the start.  Therefore, if done right, native advertising can be a very powerful tool to approach ad skeptics by providing an uninterrupted and valuable online experience in which ads are appreciated.  















Academic journals


Campbell, C. & Marks, L.J. (2015). Good native advertising isn’t a secret. Business Horizons, [e-journal] vol. 58, no. 6, pp. 599-606, available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 14 February 2016]


Cho, C.-H. & Cheon, H.J. (2004). Why do People avoid Advertising on the Internet? Journal of Advertising, [e-journal] vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 89-97, available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Grensing-Pophal, L. (2014). Consumers Coming to Accept Native Advertising Done Right. EContent, [e-journal] vol. 37, no. 6, pp. 8-10, Available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Speck, P.S. & Elliott, M.T. (1997). Predictors of Advertising Avoidance in Print and Broadcast Media. Journal of Advertising, [e-journal] vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 61–76, available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Walbesser, J.L. (2011). Blocking Advertisement Blocking: The War over Internet Advertising and the Effect on Intellectual Property. Intellectual Property & Technology Law Journal, [e-journal] vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 19-26, available through: LUSEM Library website [Accessed 19 February 2016]



Websites & Web documents


Almeida, K. (2014). What are Native Ads? The core Six. Web blog post, available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Burkholder, K. (2015). Lowdown Series: Display vs. Native Ads. Bucksense. Available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Business Insider UK (2016). Business Insider UK. Available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Deziel, M. (2014). Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work. The New York Times, available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Etsy (2016). About Etsy. Available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]

Federal Trade Commission (2015). Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements. Federal Trade Commission. Available online: [Accessed 18 February 2016]

Handmadeology (2015). Etsy Promoted Listings: How I Turned $600 into $3000. Handmadeology. Available online: [Accessed 20 February 2016]


Huddleston, T. (2015). Digital Ad Sales Will Pass TV Spending Very Soon. Fortune, 5 December, available online: [Accessed 17 February 2016]


Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) (2013). The Native Advertising Playbook. New York City. Available online: [Accessed 16 February 2016]


Kolowich, L. (2015). How Ad Blocking Works: Everything You Need to Know. Hubspot Blogs, 1 October, available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]


MDG Advertising (2014). The Shift to Native Advertising in Marketing. MDG Advertising and Marketing Blog. Available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]


Oetting, J. (2015). 9 Examples of Native Ads People Actually Enjoyed Reading. HubSpot Blogs, 23 January, available online: [Accessed 18 February 2016]


PageFair & Adobe (2015). Ad Blocking Report: The Cost of Ad Blocking. Available online: [Accessed 17 February 2016]


Rodnitzky, D. (2016). Now That The FTC Has Spoken On Native Advertising, What’s Next?. Marketing Land, 12 January, available online: [Accessed 18 February 2016]


Sharethrough & IPG Media Lab (2013). Native Ads vs. Display Ads: Exploring the Effectiveness of Native Ads. Available online:

[Accessed 19 February 2016]


Shewan, D. (2015). The Rise of Ad Blockers: Should Advertisers Be Panicking?. Word Stream, web blog post available online: [Accessed 19 February 2016]