12 Examples of Native Ads (And Why They Work)

Guinness Guide to Cheese advertorial

Despite all the hype, native advertising remains a fuzzy concept for most marketers.

According to our 2014 status report:

  • 49 percent of respondents don’t know what native advertising is
  • 24 percent are hardly familiar with it
  • Another 24 percent are somewhat familiar
  • Only 3 percent are very knowledgeable

So, given the lack of awareness (and people mistaking it for other things, like sponsorship), we thought it would be a good idea to walk you through about a dozen examples of native advertising — and why they work.

Let’s get going.

1. Print advertorials … starting with this classic example

Let’s start with the basics: the advertorial.

David Ogilvy’s “Guinness Guide to Oysters” is the quintessential advertorial — like the “Guinness Guide to Cheese” above. When people talk about advertorials they usually mention this ad — like Brian Clark did.

Quick glance and it looks like editorial content:

David Ogilvy Guinness Guide to Oysters advertorial native advertising example

Last week I explained what made this an advertorial (and next week I’ll go in depth on how to create an online advertorial that converts), so let me just say that for this to work it should appear among editorial content and match the context design.

In other words, if you removed the brand name, it would fit the style of the publication.

The Guinness Guide, however, is a print ad, which leads to this question: would an advertorial work online? Let’s see.

2. Online advertorials

This is IBM on Atlantic:

Example of IBM's branded content on The Atlantic

As you can see it’s labeled “Sponsor Content.” And except for the header and navigation bar, it is embedded among other IBM content. 

Furthermore, the article is written by David Laverty, Vice President of Marketing, Big Data, and Analytics at IBM. Yet it matches the editorial and design style of Atlantic.

Is this an advertorial? No. There is not a clear call to action. It is, therefore, sponsored or branded content.

This piece from Gawker is a better example.

The article sits on the Gawker root domain and the design and editorial style match Gawker’s.

example of an advertorial on Gawker

It is labeled “Sponsored.”

And just two paragraphs in, the intention of the sponsor is clear: WATCH OUR SHOW!

example of Gawker advertorial call to action

That is a clear call to action. The link drives you to the TBS website for King of the Nerds. This is an advertorial.

3. Online video advertorials

Naturally you can’t talk about online advertising and not talk about videos.

Yes, an advertorial can be a video, which is exactly what The Onion has done through their Onion Labs creative agency.

Last week I showed you one of their videos for Southwest Airlines. Here’s another one for a small, unknown outfit called Microsoft.

Microsoft gets the Onion treatment through this hilarious parody — but also gets its message across.

The call to action: give Explorer 9 a shot.

4. Advertorial … gone wrong

I think it is safe to say the Atlantic’s failed Scientology experiment embedded the term “native advertising” into our collective advertising consciousness.

Before their experiment, the earliest search for the term “native advertising” appears in February 2011, and it didn’t climb into double digit searches until November 2012.

Here’s the advertorial in question, one they pulled shortly after it was published:

Image of controversial Church of Scientology  sponsored post on The Atlantic

You can see the entire treatment at Poynter via PDF.

Why did they pull it? This is what the critics claim Atlantic did wrong:

  • Used a mushy expression “Sponsor Content.” It’s an expression Dan Gilmour, writer for the Guardian, says publishers use when they don’t want ads to look like ads.
  • The design layout looked too much like the design of Atlantic.
  • The editorial looks too much like Atlantic editorial.

They also forgot a clear call to action.

The joke, however, is on Scientology and not Atlantic. The religious organization is just a poor advertiser. In fact, I’m surprised Atlantic bowed to the pressure. If the ad was so sneaky, why did so many people complain?

Let’s look at sponsored content now.

5. Sponsored content

Sponsored content is what a publisher creates and then a brand pays for. This is what The Onion did for H&R Block.

example of sponsored content on The Onion for H and R Block

There is no clear call to action, so this content serves as brand awareness.

However, the article is embedded on a page surrounded by H&R Block banner ads.

Screen shot showing banner ads surrounding H and R block sponsored post on The Onion

Those banner ads contain calls to action, but good luck getting people to click them.

An offline example of sponsored content is Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The insurance company Mutual of Omaha footed the bill for production. No call to action, just brand awareness.

6. Single-sponsor issues

In the print world a single-sponsor issue is when a single advertiser sponsors an entire issue of a magazine.

The most famous example occurred in August 2005 when Target bought all the ad space (about 18 pages, including the cover) in the August 22 issue of The New Yorker.

Image of two Target ads in the New Yorker

As Stuart Elliot wrote when he originally reported on the campaign, “The goal of a single-sponsor issue is the same as it is when an advertiser buys all the commercial time in an episode of a television series: attract attention by uncluttering the ad environment.”

Again, in this case, no clear call to action, just brand awareness.

The way this works online is similar: a single sponsor buys all of the ad inventory on a website (or network of related websites) for a certain time period — a day, half a day, or even just an hour. Subway, for example, does this often on sports websites, usually timed to coincide with specific noteworthy events.

When our Director of Content Jerod Morris was running the sports blog Midwest Sports Fans, he would get such opportunities about once a month via the site’s affiliation with the sports blog network YardBarker.

All it took to make happen was inserting a special code into the header, which would control the already-in-place YardBarker ads. Then all sites in the network that chose to take part would show the same ads from the same sponsor, and only those ads.

7. Branded content

The only difference between sponsored and branded content is that the brand creates the content for the publisher.

Here is a post by Dell on NYTimes.com. Notice all the signals that it is paid content.

dell-ny-times-branded-content

As you can see, being precise about our terms is confusing because there is not an advertising standard when it comes to paid content labels.

On all the examples I’ve shared above so far, and the examples I’ll share below, you’ll see a variety of labels placed on native advertising. David Rodnitzky thinks they might violate FTC rules on deceptive advertising. But that’s for another time.

You could lump branded playlists on Spotify into this category, too.

While the brand doesn’t always create the music (Sesame Street, however, did), they do curate the songs around a theme.

Jaguar USA, Abercrombie + Fitch, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (you knew he was a brand, right?) are great examples.

8. Product placement

A classic example of product placement was the bottle of Red Stripe in the 1993 film The Firm.

Or the Coke cups American Idol judges drink from.

Or the Reese’s Pieces in the movie E.T.

But what about online examples?

I don’t make it a point to read Vice (for reasons that will be clear here in a minute), but at one point in my research I wondered what they were doing in the native advertising landscape.

That’s when I hit upon this gem (NSFW): Talking to Girls About the Good Ol’ Number Two Taboo. It’s a slideshow that amounts to a runway show for American Apparel, and a few other clothiers.

The clue was a comment on page one (otherwise I would’ve ignored the slide show and moved on):

example of product placement on vice

Hmm. Ericha might be onto something. So I emailed the author of the article to find out.

She was a very polite Swede, Caisa Ederyd. I said I am a writer working on a series for native advertising and couldn’t help noticing all the photos in her “article” were mostly of models wearing American Apparel clothes. I asked if American Apparel had paid for the slideshow.

She said American Apparel did not pay for the editorial.

“It’s a Swedish editorial,” Ederyd added, “And due to no budget in this project we had to turn to labels who lend us their clothes for free. Beyond Retro and American Apparel happened to have most items that our stylist wanted to use.”

Okay, but then I followed up and asked her what she meant by “no budget in this project.” As of publication, she has not responded.

This was a clear example of product placement.

While money may not have exchanged hands, favors did. There is a cost to American Apparel for giving away free clothes, albeit small. And in exchange they got exposure — the article was a popular post for at least 24 hours).

I’ve seen product placement in Onion pieces, too, like this one for the Canon PowerShot S1100 IS digital camera:

Canon product placement in Onion article

Did Canon pay for this ad? According to their advertising department, no. So why the precision?

If there was no commercial intent, why not just say “a Canon,” or simply “a camera” for that matter? They have not responded yet.

Again, product placement is more about building brand awareness. There is no clear call to action. And unlike the H&R Block example, the content is not surrounded by Canon banner ads.

And now, a native advertising intermission

In the 2014 native advertising report I said that I didn’t consider promoted content like we’re about to cover below — such as sponsored posts in Facebook or promoted tweets — to be native advertising. I’d include in-feed ads and Google AdWords text ads in that claim, too.

The answer is in my native advertising definition:

Native advertising is paid content that matches a publication’s editorial standards while meeting the audience’s expectations.

Facebook and Twitter fail this definition because neither are publishers. The same is true with Google AdWords. They do not have a conventional editorial branch to speak of.

In Twitter’s and Facebook’s case, this is user-generated content that brands pay to reshare. None of these are pretending to be publisher-produced editorial content. In Google’s case, it’s just an advertiser paying to get in front of an audience.

That’s plain ol’ advertising.

On this point Dan Greenberg, CEO of Sharethrough, would disagree with me. I confess, after further research, he’s got a point.

There is a sense that this species of advertising — sponsored posts and promoted tweets — is native because it appears in the social stream or among search listings. So, in the advertising taxonomy, promoted content would be related to advertorials. But, in my opinion, it has to be a different genus because it’s not editorial.

In other words, I’m admitting I was wrong. Sort of. :D

So, with that said, this intermission ends, and we get back to our last four approaches.

9. In-feed ads

You’ve seen these widgets that recommend content from “Around the Web.”

For example, on Slate:

Examples of in-feed ads on Slate

All these links do is push you to content on other publishing sites, with a few commercial mixed in. 

Companies like Sharethrough, Outbrain, and Respond provide the network to run such ads, and advertisers pay for the clicks.

The following in-feed ad, however, is different. It has clear commercial intent.

Example of commercial in-feed ad on Slate

The headline matches the editorial style of Slate, yet it is labeled “Sponsored.” Click the link and you land on a British Airways branded page with videos about the evolution of the airlines as the best in class.

And finally there are the in-feed ads that drive you to another website. You know what I’m talking about.

  • The one simple exercise that burns belly fat.
  • The arrest records of your local city.

The words sit underneath the bold black title “Trending Around the Web” with “ADVERTISEMENT” sitting quietly to the right in a light grey font.

These ads have an editorial feel about them, as do the websites they drive you to — but clearly they have a commercial intent. Despite our distaste for these, I have a hunch they work for the advertiser. Because they have not gone away.

10. Sponsored posts (Facebook)

I could not find a good example of a sponsored post on Facebook. Is this because I am NEVER there? You more than likely know what I’m talking about, though.

Here’s my best shot:

example of a sponsored post on Facebook

You can read up on Sponsored posts here.

11. Promoted Tweets

Pretty basic stuff here. Nice one from the same company who created Twitter.

example of a promoted tweet

Learn more about promoted Tweets here.

12. Google Text Ads (Search Listings)

Can you spot the ads?

google-text-ads

Life on Bing is no different.

example of text ads on bing

Learn more about Google text ads here.

Where does content marketing fall in respect to native advertising?

They are born of the same stock and have the same goal in mind, but the main difference is this: with content marketing the brand becomes the publisher.

Exquisite examples of content marketers:

  • Red Bull
  • GE
  • Mint
  • Magnolia

We like to think we do a pretty decent job at Copyblogger Media, as well. Let’s just say our business results consistently meet or exceed our expectations.

In each case the brand creates content that informs, educates, or entertains. It’s how you build an audience that builds your business.

Native advertising, therefore, is paid content that drives traffic to that content.

And for a final comparison, guest posting is non-paid content that drives traffic to the content on your domain.

What’s next?

Here’s what you can expect next in this series.

First, an article on how to create an advertorial that converts.

Then, research concluding whether native advertising is profitable or not. We know it’s profitable for the publisher, but is it profitable for the advertiser? I aim to find out.

And let me close with a recent quote from Brian:

Good native ads are content that’s about the reader, watcher, or listener. But ultimately there’s an actionable goal for the advertiser, like opt-in to get a free report from New Rainmaker (you’ll see this happen from us soon).”

Want to discuss anything about this article? Share other examples of native advertising? Then join the discussion over on Google+.

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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