Client: “What are some new channels we could test in digital?”
Advertiser: “Well there’s TikTok, Reddit, Native…”
Client: “What’s native?”
Advertiser: “They are image ads that appear across different websites.”
Client: “So they are Display ads.”
Advertiser: “No, they look more natural than Display ads.”
Client: “So Native is better than Display?”
Advertiser: “No, they don’t capture user attention as well.”
Client: “So Display is better than Native ads?”
Advertiser: “No, they see lower engagement rates”
Client: “So they are equally beneficial?”
Advertiser: “No, they are different.”
Client: “???”

Sound familiar? 

The difference between Native ads and Display ads can be difficult to understand or see for that matter. Therefore, explaining it to clients can often be confusing especially if you don’t quite understand the difference yourself. To clear that up, let’s chat through how Native Ads are different from normal Display ads and how they perform. 

Mostly everyone should be familiar with Display ads. They stand out. They pop up everywhere and annoy the living daylights out of you. On the side of the page, at the top of the page, in the middle of the page, on top of the article, you were in the middle of reading. But as intrusive as they are, they get your attention – just like they are supposed to. Can you recall some of the display ads you have been hit with lately? If so, then they are doing their job.

Native ads, on the other hand, aren’t primarily meant to be remembered. They fit directly into the content of a website, disguising themselves as part of an article, internal link, recommended content at the end of a page, etc. In short, they are sneaky and don’t annoy people.

Take the example below. Can you tell where the Display ad and where the native ad is?

These Display ads are very obvious. The Voya ad located at the top of the page and the ad located to the right are Display ads. But the Native ad? It’s located at the bottom of the page below the recommended articles. You’ll notice that it is formated almost exactly like the recommended articles. Even the “Forbes // Sponsored” line is formatted like the timestamp of the rest of the articles. The largest difference is that it states it is sponsored and the headline font is different. 

However, the primary difference isn’t so much the formatting, but the content of the ad. The Native ad looks like an article (and maybe is) itself. It is content that people actually want to read. There is more to it than a simple heading and catchy tagline. 

With that said, Native ads do not just show up in places where there are articles. They are also quite common on social media. Some social media ads are pretty obviously ads, but others you could consume and not even realize they are ads. They are likely the ones you stop and look at and perhaps watch all the way through. 

Because of the inherent nature of Native ads, they achieve a different goal than Display ads and should be incorporated into your strategy for a different reason. To be clear, they are not interchangeable, they are not the same in any way other than they show up in the same places.

Display ads, as you likely already know, help build brand awareness. However, they do not achieve very high conversion or engagement results. Because they are memorable and pop up everywhere you look, they need to be incorporated into your strategy when you are trying to build your brand and get your name in front of a broad audience. 

Native ads, however, are more nuanced. Because they look like real content, they tend to trigger higher engagement rates. That is if they are in front of the right audience. If someone has come to a website to read an article, they are more likely to click on a recommended article if it is on the same or similar topic as the article they just finished reading. Therefore, when using Native ads your goal should be to trigger engagement among your desired audience, rather than build awareness across a greater audience. For your targeting, you should think of your audience, who they are, where they are, what products they use, what content they consume, and place your Native ads in those places. Again, a much different strategy and goal than just plastering ads everywhere on the internet. 

Native advertising and Display advertising are both very important to a full-funnel strategy and neither should be left out. However, their differences need to be recognized and respected. You cannot expect to generate high awareness with native ads, just as you can’t expect to see a million conversions from Display ads. With that said, now that you know how Native ads differ from Display, you can explain and set expectations for Native advertising with your clients.