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Native Ads vs. Sponsored Content: Get It Right (or Pay the Price)

While sponsored content and native ads may fall under the same marketing umbrella, they’re two different tools for two different jobs.

More and more publishers are using the terms “native advertising” and “sponsored content” interchangeably, but in fact they are different. The restrictions on (true) native advertising actually make it more effective than other forms of brand content, depending on a marketer’s goals. Sponsored content is less restrictive but the benefits can be short term.
Understanding the differences between native advertising and sponsored content will help you choose the one that’s right for you.

The original “native advertising”

Where does the word “native” come from? Why did the publishing industry choose that adjective? To understand that you must first think of the opposite of “native” – “alien.”
When advertorials first appeared in print publications, they were intended to look like editorial. Concerned publishers quickly set guidelines for advertorials, requiring them to use graphic design elements that made these ads look different, or “alien” to the publication’s editorial.
For example, if a magazine’s “native” editorial was presented using a serif font in a four-column format, advertorials had to use a sans-serif font and three-column format to make them look “alien.” Publisher’s writers and editors could not be involved in the creation of the copy. Advertisers could tout their products and services in advertorials and include a call to action. Finally, the ads had to be clearly marked with the word, “advertising” or “advertorial.”
Fast forward to today. Originally, native advertising was editorial controlled and created by a publisher. It included third-party sourcing (like a news story), did not promote a product and could not include a call to action. Meeting all these criteria, this objective editorial could be published using the same font, column layout and other design elements that made it “native” editorial. It still had to carry an advertiser disclaimer.

Today’s native vs. sponsored content

To make brand content more attractive to marketers who want the focus of their content on themselves and who want more control over their copy, publishers began offering “sponsored content.” With sponsored content a marketer can direct the message and even create the copy. The content doesn’t need third-party sourcing, can mention a product or service and include a call to action.
Some publishers put restrictions on sponsored content, but in general it’s less restrictive than native advertising. As long as it’s clearly marked as “sponsored” or “promoted” by an advertiser, publishers give brands much more leeway.

Which works better?

Consumers trust editorial more than they do advertising. Native advertising is a better choice if a company has a long-term goal of getting customers to view the brand as credible, authoritative and trustworthy. Sponsored content can be more effective than native if a marketer just needs a quick, temporary sales boost.

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