Native advertising, or the process of incorporating paid media into a user experience so it’s nearly indistinguishable from non-commercial content, is controversial to say the least.

That said, it’s clear content marketing professionals are still eager to explore the potential of native advertising strategies.

A recent study from Facebook and IHS Inc. found that by 2020, media buyers are forecast to spend nearly $85 billion on mobile advertising, with native ads the source of much of this growth. In fact, native in-stream ads will comprise approximately 63 percent of all mobile display ads in the next four years.

Taking into account the momentum of native advertising, as well as its tricky ethical implications, it’s vital for content marketing pros to follow the path laid out by leaders in this area as we head into 2017.

Along with Brafton Content Marketing Strategist Trent Warner, Founder of Mdeziel Media and Native Advertising Expert Melanie Deziel and Philips Global Head of Marketing Tomasz Lisewski have selected the best native advertising of 2016.

Philips – The New York Times

Native advertising can appeal to content marketers for its ability to engage targeted audiences. Whereas many busy consumers train themselves to skip over online advertisements, native ads are more likely to be perceived as regular content, and therefore viewed.

This was illustrated by a recent partnership between Philips and The New York Times.

Hoping to associate its brand more with health technology, Philips opted for a native advertising campaign with the Times partly because 1 out of 5 of its readers are c-suite executives, based on data from an Ipsos Affluent Survey.

Over two years and nine stories as the Times’ official health partner, Philips generated more than 1.6 million page views. More importantly, the company achieved better recall among consumers than with standard advertisements, helping the brand stay top of mind with its preferred audience. It was also able to enhance and expand how Philips is perceived, including in the areas of reputation, innovation, quality, integrity and social responsibility.

Readers were more likely to recommend the Philips brand following this campaign, and were increasingly willing to recommend the native content produced to others.

“Relative to the standard ad, the Philips’ sponsored ‘Tech for a New Age’ paid post content was more highly recalled following exposure,” Lisewski said. “[It] seemed more like content than advertising. Perceptions that Philips provides insightful information, unique content, interesting information and has a point of view in which [people] tend to agree were boosted [compared to standard advertisements].”

Various Ads – Instagram

What makes native advertising “native” is the ability for branded content to slip into different platforms without sticking out as obvious marketing. Instagram does this better than most, incorporating ads that use the same format as regular posts.

Instagram excels at native ads that blend in.

“The ads that I have been prompted with in the last few months have honestly tricked me multiple times and I’ve clicked through,” Warner said. “They look exactly like the other things I like and follow, they are thumb-friendly with compelling imagery that makes me stop for an extra second and look, and they usually feature a storytelling aspect.”

Pop TV – The Onion

What better destination for effective branded content than America’s Finest News Source?

The Onion’s mix of expert wit, absurdity and journalistic style makes it a favorite among comedy lovers and cultural critics alike. As a bonus for native advertisers, the fact that its content is fabricated makes it easy to sidestep any moral dilemmas regarding inserting marketing materials.

Pop TV took full advantage with its piece for new show “Nightcap.”


“This piece has the voice and tone of The Onion, and covers a topic that ties directly to the themes of the show, making it a great marriage between the advertising brand and publisher,” Deziel said. “The humor and sarcastic tone of the piece is exactly what readers expect when they arrive on The Onion, so I imagine that any Onion readers who found themselves on this piece would have felt it was an organic fit.”

Cardlytics – Adweek

Who says native advertising can’t add to journalistic endeavors? In an article titled “Subscription Service Marketing Trends You’ll See at Thanksgiving This Year,” Adweek demonstrated the power of its Brandshare initiative, which provides native advertising opportunities for brands that are relevant to specific industry topics.

In this case, Cardlytics’ data analytics expertise was put to great use for a story regarding how consumers were traveling, eating and entertaining themselves during Thanksgiving.

“What’s great about this piece is that the advertiser was able to provide data and an interesting perspective that Adweek couldn’t have on its own,” Deziel said. “By using its proprietary data, Cardlytics was able to bring valuable insights and content to Adweek readers, making this content truly additive to the publisher’s environment and the readers’ experience of it.”

There’s no doubt the merits of native ads remain contentious for some. However, the benefits of effective native ads is undeniable. What these examples demonstrate is the importance of adding value and minimizing disruption for consumers. Whether through formatting, tone or information provided, native advertising should be seamless, relevant and engaging.

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Eric Wendt is a writer and editor at Brafton. He discovered his love of words after realizing he was terrible at math. If he's not updating his Tumblr with poetry he's too embarrassed to share, there's a good chance he's out in search of the perfect pale ale.