Native advertising branded content

What the Heck are Native Advertising and Branded Content?

You’ve probably been seeing the terms “native advertising” and “branded content” (also known as “sponsored content”) a lot lately.

Native advertising and branded content are the future, according to many pundits. Audiences are tuning out of commercials during program breaks and viewing content on tablets and smart phones. They want to be entertained and get the information they need when they want it.

Many people feel the terms are interchangeable but there is a subtle difference. Even the smallest company can buy into the game, in a small way. So what the heck are they?

Native Advertising

Native advertising is paid advertising. The ads are meant to appear as if they are part of the editorial content of a magazine or newspaper. In the olden days, we called this kind of content Advertorials.

They often appear as multi-page inserts in magazines and newspapers. To distinguish them from “Earned Media,” the new-age term for editorial content, “Advertisement” is shown at the top of the advertorial, but not too large, please.

The content is usually written by PR people or copywriters, and never by the editorial staff of the publication.

But it isn’t so easy to identify the new native advertising, which includes Facebook Boost posts and Promoted Tweets. I’ve experimented with both and written about them.

It doesn’t cost much to get started. But as my own results showed, like any other form of advertising, you’ll need to commit a substantial budget in your “bid” to have your posts and tweets show up high in search within these social networks.

An excellent example of native advertising is an article in Wired, in which Mitch Hurwitz, a star of Netflix’s “Arrested Development,” pops up in a video to discuss how TV is changing. Netflix sponsored the article.

Of course, he pointed out that viewers are watching more quality shows like those on Netflix. For more examples, you can read HubSpot’s 9 Examples of Native Ads People Actually Enjoyed Reading.

Branded Content

Branded (or sponsored) content is advertising co-mingled with editorial. When you see the stars in a movie drinking Cokes, that didn’t happen by accident. That’s a paid ad, or what’s called a product placement.

Branded content isn’t new. In the 1930s, Procter & Gamble began producing and sponsoring radio soaps, and then television soap operas.

Branded content is growing so fast that a few years ago advertisers formed a Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA), to share best practices and showcase the most successful campaigns.

Coca-Cola is considered a trailblazer in branded content. In launching Coca-Cola Journey the company declared its “home page re-launch marks a final break with the corporate website. You read it here first: for consumers, the corporate website is dead and ‘press release PR’ is on its way out.”

The new site is filled with branded stories with information that consumers tell Coke they want with links to Coke’s social media networks. Coke’s brand message is totally integrated into its website and social content.

The Down Side

What’s good for the advertisers may not be so fine for the audiences of major content distribution channels like TV, print, and social media. Does someone who conducts a search in Twitter for an authority on a topic know the first post that pops up is a sponsored tweet?

PR uses the term “third party endorsement” when a company pitches a reporter with a story that eventually gets published.

That’s great PR for the company and its products, but the publisher retains editorial control and can include both the good and the bad. Readers and viewers tend to believe these stories. If it appears in The New York Times or on CBS News it must be true, right?

But what if that content is actually advertising masquerading as editorial content? Is it still believable? Is the content accurate?

That’s why in surveys, as shown in the infographic below, 75% of respondents said ethics must play a role in native ads. We need to challenge a publisher that accepts a native ad that wildly inflates a product claim.

While both native and branded advertising are hot, 55% of advertisers haven’t jumped into the ring yet because they are not familiar enough with it and another 27% were concerned about transparency.

That’s good news. The world is changing and we’ll see more native and branded advertising. We just need to trust that advertisers and content distribution channels will be faithful in identifying what is editorial and what is advertising.

Infographic courtesy Adweek

Infographic courtesy Adweek

Leave a Reply


  1. So both emerging advertisings are or have a bit of editorial advertising Jeannette? Geez. I also feel like the line between the ad and the content are going to become one and the same. That is a scary thought.

    • Patricia — that’s pretty much what’s happening. Advertisers need a way around people hitting the “mute” button during TV ads so they are create ads that mimic editorial.

  2. “We just need to trust that advertisers and content distribution channels will be faithful in identifying what is editorial and what is advertising.” Sorry Jeannette, but this just made me laugh. I hate to be the cynic here, but the entire idea that native advertising is here to stay may be true, but I’d venture an opinion that is NOT because consumers like it. To me, it’s a thinly veiled way to deceive a consumer base that has grown weary of being blasted by ads. Sorry:)

    • Jacquie — advertisers know that viewers are muting their commercials or, more likely, recording TV shows so they can zip by them. So if it’s content we’re looking for they feel they can dish up their messages in a palatable way that resembles editorial. We may not like it, but I think it’s the future.

  3. Jeannette, I loved the starting image and your use of graphics. It kept me scrolling right to the end.
    As far as native advertising/branded content becoming part of editorials, this doesn’t really bother me as long as this is stated upfront. Any corporate deceit should be not be allowed and it would be a great boost to the BCMA’s credibility if they took on the role of ensuring transparency.

    • Thanks, Lenie. You made a good point about the BCMA. So I just looked at their website and, sad to say, nothing about the ethics of branded content.

  4. Veiling advertising as editorial is indeed here to stay. As usual, I come at this from an educator’s standpoint. Time needs to be devoted to differentiating between the two in high school classrooms, but as is usually the case, such critical thinking needed to understand the art of rhetoric gets pushed aside in favor of tests. The common core is helping, but not enough.

    • Jeri — Advertising as editorial has been around a long time, but it is much more sophisticated now, in my view, and readers and viewers can’t always tell what’s editorial and advertising. If you read about it you find that advertisers feel they are responding with content that people say they want, but you have to wonder….

  5. What a wonderful blog, and appropriate for me. My next blog is dealing with drugs and marketing. Advertising is sometimes the biggest part of their budget. The different ways these companies advertise is unique to say the least. Thanks for sharing this information with us.

    • William — the drug companies are among the best at co-mingling advertising and editorial. Their goal is to get patients to ask their doctors to prescribe branded products.

  6. This was very interesting and disturbing. I was particularly disturbed to read that only 66% thought there should be clear disclosure on ads. I already find all the targeted advertising showing up on my social media sites annoying, but much of it is clearly marked as sponsored or advertisement. As more advertising content masquerades as editorial content, I wonder if the public in general will become so cynical and distrustful of what we read that true editorial discussion will no longer exist.

  7. Hi Jeannette, great article! Just a short comment: It still is up to the consumer to buy it or not 😉 To “buy” the story and/or to buy the product. No company, as far as I know, is forcing you literally into purchasing, so if you should have any second thoughts (f.e. ethics), you should get yourself a second opinion…
    Have a great day today 🙂

  8. It’s quite obvious who has paid for the products that are prominently shown in movies and I can tolerate that because it’s obvious. I really dislike the misleading native advertising which even hides behind a misleading name.

  9. Good old advertorials. Not sure why it had to be renamed native advertising. Personally don’t believe anything written in advertorials and most people actually don’t. Branded content has much more impact. What young man, and older as well for that matter, would, for instance, not want to drive the same car as James Bond?

    Sometimes PR managers who think they are smart have a very unpleasant surprise when they discover the journalist has not praised the product/business or whatever but instead been highly critical. Who wants to have such an article in, say, the New York Times:-)

    • Catarina – i truly believe that un unbiased editorial review adds so much more value to an brand (rather than a sponsored ad). Readers believe it’s the truth.

  10. This is great information! As a business person that work with ad agencies and have helped small business owners with their advertising, I knew the tactics that are used in advertising but I didn’t recall the difference in the terminology. I do feel that ethics is very important in advertising. If companies did not have ethics when generating their advertising, we wouldn’t trust them and in turn, not buy from them. So, I hope companies are being honest when they advertise. It’s always my main goal. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful content as always.

    • Sabrian — ethics is so important in advertisings. But companies feel that branded and sponsored advertising are ethical — and they are if the advertiser makes it clear that the advertising is not unbiased editorial.

  11. I’ve never paid much attention to advertising before, but now that I have a blog, I find myself on both sides of it. This was great information (and I love a good infographic)! I think the issue usually comes down to two things: money and ethics. And I agree with Jeri’s comment too.

    • Meredith — it’s usually about money, isn’t it? Advertisers need to reach those consumers who mute or zip by TV commercials. Another disturbing trend is that the broadcast networks are preceding videos on their online news sites with paid ads that you can’t skip but they are often incompatible with the story that follows.

  12. My son-in-law is a VP of sales for a major network and he said that when TIVO came into play, now others have jumped in on the band wagon, advertising is not what it used to be. Streaming has also cut out the advertisers. The advertisers are what keeps the networks in business. So whether it is old or new advertising, creativity of getting the information out to the public is being worked from all angles

    • Arleen — we have to recognize that the networks need to make money. The traditional TV ads aren’t working so they have to find additional sources of revenue and native advertising and branded content are flavor of the moment right now.

  13. Hey Jeannette,

    Well that’s interesting. I hadn’t heard the term native advertising but I also don’t watch commercials either. I would personally never find anything so interesting that I would pause a program and go to the site. Obviously though there are plenty of people who would which is why I guess this is something that’s taking the advertising world by storm.

    Thanks for sharing these terms with us and explaining more about them.


    • You’re welcome, Adrienne. The point of native advertising is that it shouldn’t look like advertising but like editorial so that you’ll keep reading and tune in. May or may not work.

  14. I don’t mind them sipping away on their Coke or Starbucks so blatantly placed on American Idol or America’s got talent, because it is so obvious. What I don’t like is when it is not clear if its advertising at all that I am reading. That’s where it crosses the line for me. Or when I get to the very end and THEN realize darn it’s a crummy commercial …like Ralphie and his Ovaltine commercial that came with his magic decoder in “Christmas Story.” 🙂

    • Susan — that’s what alienates viewers and damages a brand in my view. I check NBC News online a couple of times a day for news updates. Just recently they started inserting commercials in front of every story. It was offensive to sit through a humorous commercial before I could get to the story about Beau Biden’s funeral.