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When Native Advertising Works: Qualities of a Good Ad

Valerie Levin

We’ve all been victim to it. You’re perusing a site, reading an interesting article or scrolling your social feed and suddenly a headline or image catches your eye.

Without realizing it, you’ve clicked and been sucked into an advertisement.

But that was, in fact, the very goal of the company who produced the article and placed it strategically so as to bait your click among the site’s organic content.

Even if you felt duped by the ad, you probably weren’t as angry as if a pop-up kept harassing you or a sidebar overtook your online experience.

This subtle tactic, known as native advertising, might be sly, but it’s quite effective if executed correctly. The right native ads blend right in and entice viewers without directly declaring its overt promotional nature. The wrong native ads feel like paid articles in Reader’s Digest or infomercials during non-peak TV hours.

Native advertising, when done well, has the power to bring new customers to your brand and introduce them to your values without being overbearing.

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Identical Form and Function

Native advertising is defined as a paid ad that follows the natural form and function of the user experience of the platform in which the ad appears. It is also important to note, as the Content Marketing Institute points out, that native advertising is not the same as content marketing, but is simply one way of distributing content in the greater scheme of inbound marketing.

As content marketing grows, so does the opportunity for native advertising. Both marketers and publishers understand this method of message dissemination is much preferred over banner ads or pop-ups. Native ads are viewed 54 percent more than banner ads and generate 82% brand lift.

Interest in the strategy was reaching full saturation just three years ago with 73 percent of online publishers offering some form of native ads. Now the financial stake in the industry is growing exponentially with spending expected to go from $4.7 billion in 2013 to $21 billion in 2018.

The majority of that spend will come from social media ads, with display ads and sponsored content following behind. Publishers and marketers will explore and discover how each type of ad succeeds in different environments and with different audiences. As these discoveries are made, the best formats and content of native ads will become clear.   

Qualities of a Good Native Ad

A good native ad, no matter where it appears, will have these qualities, and in doing so will attract a broader range of prospects, bring them to your site and convert them into buyers.  

Target Audience

If you want to attract a specific demographic, age or interest group, you should look to the publications those people frequent most. For example, if you want to reach millennials, BuzzFeed-like sites are an ideal place to start.

Knowing the audience of certain publications is just as crucial as knowing your own audience. This helps you find both the publications you want to native advertise on and what type of content you should be producing to reach your audience.  

Paralleled Quality

Perhaps the most important aspect of successful native advertising is to match the quality and level of the publication’s work. If you want to use The New York Times as your platform, your content better rise to their standards. This parallelism of work will help create a truly organic experience for the reader. 

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Informative and Interesting

Every company should use native advertising as an opportunity to share thought-provoking and new information. Simply regurgitating information that already exists is a service to no one. Potential customers find much more value in breaking news, revealing truths and fascinating anecdotes. Showcase your creativity and content skills here. Don’t waste the space you have paid for.

Disguised Ad Copy

A good native ad is indeed an ad but doesn’t read like one. It’s okay to mention a product or talk about the industry in broad strokes, but the article or social post shouldn’t read like a cheesy tagline.

We like these examples, although most are consumer focused, as proof of beautiful and educational native ads that honored the mission of the host publication and integrated marketing aims into the content.

Qualities of a Bad Native Ad

You know a bad ad when you see one. There could be one or many things about it that degrade its value in your eyes. When creating your own native ad, you want to avoid these characteristics:


While it’s important to write enticing headlines, it’s unfair to write purely click-bait headlines. These are usually articles that make huge claims in the title and give little information in the actual body of text or cover a different topic than the title appears to be about.

Clickhole, a site made in good fun, is an excellent place to take notes on the perfectly clickable, but uninformative headlines that so many marketers are guilty of using.

For example, “The Future is Now: Google Has Confirmed That Its Computer is Big,” is a funny twist on what typical native ads accomplish: bold words stating the obvious. Avoid these semantics with thoughtful yet straightforward headlines.

Fitting a Round Peg in a Square Hole

If you are trying to fit your content to a publication that doesn’t match your ideals and audience, you wasting your advertising budget and your efforts. It is better to invest time and energy into researching the proper outlets for your brand than trying to be something you are not.


Any article or social post that seems like it’s yelling about the greatness of a product or service is going to turn viewers away faster than a pop-up ad. Overly promotional native ads try too hard, like fitting an ad slogan that doesn’t make sense into the text, and turn people away.  

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Not Fact-based

Marketers should treat native advertising as content marketing, meaning it should read like one of their own blog posts or social content. The best content marketing is based on fact and presents truth in order to glean new ideas and innovations.

If your organization is using native advertising or hoping to dive in soon, make sure to follow these guidelines to gain the most traction. Any type of advertising requires research, creativity and planning.

Native advertising blends the interests of using money to make money and the interests of content marketing by using a platform to spread a valuable message. To do it right, you can emulate the publication you hope to advertise with and continue creating relevant content.

Image Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images
Valerie Levin Member
Valerie Levin is the Director of Inbound Marketing at Penguin Strategies, a B2B marketing agency focused on helping technology companies, from startups to enterprises, bridge their marketing and sales efforts. Valerie has a passion for creatively promoting brands through content marketing, social media campaigns, email marketing and influencer outreach, and has years of experience in the media monitoring, public relations, and marketing fields.