By Joe Pulizzi published August 26, 2015

Native Advertising

Native advertising-not-content marketing

When you see the phrase “native advertising,” what do you think? Do you think of content marketing?

Well, a lot of people do … so much so, that I felt compelled to write an article about it.

Before I go through the differences, let me explain why it’s essential to make the distinction. The words we use are important. From the moment I started in this industry over 15 years ago, everyone used different terms – customer media, branded content (please don’t!), custom publishing, custom content. The good news is that most people today call it content marketing. As I mentioned in a CMI newsletter last year, it’s key that we have moved on from defining content marketing to spending time figuring out how to do it:

Yes, I am personally vested in the term content marketing, but the important thing is that we have universal agreement on whatever term we, as an industry, have collectively decided to use. Now that we have this, we can continue to build our industry, warts and all, together.

For those same reasons it’s important to understand how other industry terms are related to content marketing. A few years ago, the term native advertising caught on (more on its meaning in a second). Too many marketers and agency executives erroneously use content marketing and native advertising interchangeably. When that happens, our industry takes a step backward, as native advertising is simply one way marketers can distribute content.

The point is that using the correct terminology is important. To me, to you, to the industry. If we can’t speak the language fluently, how can we expect others to understand content marketing or respect us as content marketers?

This is content marketing

Content marketing is a strategic marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action by changing or enhancing consumer behavior.

Content marketing is an ongoing process that is best integrated into an overall marketing strategy. It focuses on owning media, not renting it.

In content marketing, the brand owns the media. It’s an asset.

This is native advertising

I’ve written a thorough overview of native advertising on LinkedIn, but let’s look at one example.

For most situations, longer-form native advertising (I’m not talking about Google or Twitter ads) is:

  • A directly paid opportunity – Native advertising is “pay to play.” Brands pay for the placement of content on platforms outside of their own media.
  • Usually information based – The content is useful, interesting, and highly targeted to a specific audience. In all likelihood, it’s not a traditional advertisement directly promoting the company’s product or service.

This is where native advertising looks a bit like content marketing. The information is usually highly targeted (hopefully) and positioned as valuable. But again, in native advertising, you are renting someone else’s content distribution platform (just like advertising), except that you aren’t pimping a product or service.

  • Delivered in stream. The user experience is not disrupted with native advertising because it is delivered in a way that does not impede the user’s normal behavior in that particular channel.

Brands want their native advertising to look as similar as possible to the third-party site’s content. Though the media company wants that too (because it’s easier to sell that way), it also has to put out a multitude of warning labels around the content to make sure the paid placement is 100% transparent.

To summarize, native advertising doesn’t disrupt the user experience and offers helpful information in a format similar to the other content on the site so users engage with it more than they would with, say, a banner ad. (This is good for advertisers, and if the content is truly useful, good for consumers.) In very simple terms, native advertising is one way content marketers can distribute their content.

A quick review

If you pay for placement, it’s advertising.

If you pay for placement of valuable, relevant content in a format similar to the third-party site, it’s native advertising.

If you don’t pay for placement, the content is not advertising.

If that content is valuable and relevant, designed to attract a clearly defined audience, and posted on your own or other unpaid platform, it’s content marketing. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay to promote your content as part of your content marketing strategy. If you don’t have an audience that is subscribed to receive your content, you should look into paid media as a way to reach a targeted audience.

The next time someone uses content marketing or native advertising in the wrong scenario, please correct the person. Help us all speak the same language and be part of positive change for the world.

More Resources

The Interactive Advertising Bureau breaks native advertising into six categories. Check it out here.

What tactics are successful content marketers relying on most? Find out where your peers are focusing their content marketing efforts in our eBook: Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix: Top Priorities for 2015.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • opedmkt

    I understand what you’re saying Joe, I’m not sure I agree. Anywhere you’re marketing your content, paid or not, it’s content marketing.

    As an example, say you used Google AdWords (paid) to promote your FREE eBook (free content) as part of a lead gen strategy. Would you consider that native advertising because you paid for it? I wouldn’t.

    As well, if the exchange of money is the difference between native and content marketing, that’s kind of a grey area. For example, if a brand incentivizes and influencer to write about their company (whether it be free products, swag, free tickets to an event, etc.), then would that be native advertising or content marketing, because money hasn’t been exchanged, but value has.

    It’s an interesting debate, I’m just not sure the distinction is that clear.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Robert…it’s not just the exchange of money, it’s paying for space on someone else’s platform that designates it as native advertising. Now, to your point, could this be PART of your overall content marketing strategy…absolutely. But in and of itself, native advertising doesn’t mean it’s content marketing. It could be (and in most cases is) an advertising campaign purchased in partnership with a media company that is bought by a media planner, with advertising dollars, and does not involve the content marketing strategy at all. Does that help?

  • Mike Glover

    Great distinction Joe! I agree, the term Native Advertising has infiltrated the industry and often misused by a lot of people and it has caused a lot of confusion. Educating the industry and the execs is essential and this is a great step in that direction!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Mike…really appreciate the note.

  • Mike Myers

    Great distinction, Joe. The only nit I would have is that, while native is paid placement, for sure, brands are also paying for creation there, as well, right?

    Many publishers are tooling up their internal creative groups so they can offer content creation that is designed to somewhat mirror the publication (which is where some get in trouble if it looks too much like editorial). But they are also offering brands a new resource in terms of content creation. I believe this is why Native is selling well and also working for some brands…it’s not just the distribution.

    I agree with everything you’ve said, but I do think it’s important to recognize some brands are choosing Native not only for its distribution but for content creation, as well. Publishers who do this well, without appearing to trick consumers, will succeed with Native Advertising. Great post!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Mike…totally agree. Many publishers are leveraging native advertising services as fully turnkey – placement plus creation. But again, while this may be “part” of the overall content marketing strategy, it’s a very separate part of renting space by buying advertising. I really like the programs that use this and then present a call to action to go to an owned platform or owned content asset.

      See you at CMWorld my friend, and thanks.

      • Mike Myers

        Yes, indeed! See you very soon.

  • James Robert Lay

    I strongly agree Joe. Native advertising can be a good short-term strategy to steal eyeballs and acquire emails so one can build their own platform and not have to rely on others in the long run.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks James. I think it would be a great goal for, someday, not to be beholden to advertising to be successful.

  • Hunt Fish Ads

    @juntajoe:disqus – Some very valid and well put together points you have made here. Many folks do blur the lines of Native Advertising & Content Marketing. Advertising, in essence, is marketing (but in a paid generally non-personal manner, for the most part.) While Native Advertising enables us to give our advertised “content message” a more personal feel at the end of the day it’s still “Advertising.” Meanwhile, Content Marketing (with emphasis placed on “Marketing”) is more of a systematic implementation of the marketing mix. Which hopefully if delivered properly brings about the exchange we wish to happen between Brand and Consumer. Both Native Advertising & Content Marketing seek the same results. However, the implementation of the two and where they fit exactly in the marketing pie are truly independent of each-other. The entire topic is very open to interpretation. I can see where, if Brand X hires – Agency Z to create them, a marketing piece that evolves around content either in written or visual form that its in-fact the creation of advertising. As, it’s most likely being created to carry the persuasive “advertising ~ marketing” message of the sponsoring brand that hired for its creation. However, I get what your message, here is. What makes it Content “Marketing” over Native “Advertising” is in-which manner and routes are taken to deliver that message to the consumer. Please add your corrections, If I am off-base.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks…I would add that native advertising programs and content marketing programs are often run by different silos within the same company…and thus have different goals. I’d like to think that media buyers who purchase space with native advertising have the goal to grow an audience, but that’s most likely never the case. In content marketing, one of our main goals should be to grow an audience that knows, likes and trusts us more, which will lead to a profitable behavior for the brand.

      • Hunt Fish Ads

        Thanks for the added thoughts, @juntajoe:disqus!

  • jeff fagel

    Hey Joe, respect the POV, you’ve built an amazing organizaton,
    but why do we get hung up on definitions?
    Specifically, what is or isn’t considered content. A blog, ad, video, social
    post, all of these distinctions drive further silos within organizations.

    Consumers could care less how we categorize different forms of communications,
    so then why as marketers are we enamored with these distinctions? I just wrote a post on this

    And covered my pov further on a Twitter Chat with CMI

    Where before marketers always had to choose between promoting the brand or making a sale; today’s success necessitates marketer’s ability
    to bridge the gap between these
    disconnected worlds.


    • Joe Pulizzi

      I’m so glad you asked this Jeff. Here’s my answer. As a teacher, it’s SO much easier to teach marketers about content marketing if they have some basic understanding of the different phrases and definitions. I’ve been teaching for over 15 years. The first 10 years were a challenge because the industry called what we did so many different things. For many years, and even into today, it’s like we are speaking different languages.

      Consumers don’t care about this at all. I agree. This post was not meant for consumers.

  • Eric Wittlake

    Joe, agree 110% that native advertising is about distribution. I’d broaden your definition of native advertising a bit though. You said: “If you pay for placement of valuable, relevant content in a format similar to the third-party site, it’s native advertising.” Drop “valuable, relevant.” Hopefully, that is how you use the space, but it unfortunately isn’t required.

    We’ve all seen ads promoting one weird trick to get rid of belly fat, how to get an ipad for $40 and the secret insurance companies don’t want you to know. These are (largely) native ad placements. And they definitely aren’t valuable and relevant.

    With that, I’ll add: if you are using native ads to promote your content, consider the company you are keeping. It may change which providers you choose to work with.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      LOVE both these points Eric. You are 100% right. Actually, most of the “native advertising” I see is not valuable or relevant…but a man can dream, right?

      And yes, it’s a partnership. It’s also very hard to scale since each media property has a distinct audience.

  • Grannelle

    Highly insightful – much the same as differentiating analytics and metrics, two more monikers that, while distinguishable, are often used interchangeably.

  • Kate Lorenz

    Thank you! A former employer touted its “content marketing capability” after partnering with a large platform to create and distribute content – for a fee and just across that one platform. Needless to say my attempts to educate leadership on the true meaning of content marketing were not taken very well.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Kate…I agree. Content marketing as a term is being used for everything under the sun. Hey, I get it…but we don’t have to stand for it.

  • Abey Mathew

    1) Content marketing is a subset of marketing

    2) Advertising is a subset of marketing

    3) Native advertising is a subset of advertising and content marketing

    4) Not all content marketing is native advertising

    5) Content marketing is an ongoing process while native advertising is more often than not campaign based

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Works for me.

  • Doug Kessler

    Great post and needed to be said. The definitive distinction between the two.

    I still have reservations about the ‘native’ part: it means disguising advertising as editorial. It can be done sensitively or crassly but it’s still advertising that has tiptoed out of its banner placement and slithered its way into the editorial stream so that, as you say, ‘it doesn’t impede’ the experience.

    The motivation, of course, is not to preserve the reader experience. It’s to earn a click by imitating non-sponsored editorial. As a reader, I resent that. As a marketer…

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Tell me how you really feel Doug? (slithered). For that reasons, brands should just buy all the media companies so we don’t have to worry about this anymore 😉

    • Carl Friesen

      As a former journalist, I share the concern about advertising blending
      with editorial. People read a publication, in print or online, because they trust its independence. They need to know when they should suspend that trust, because what they’re reading is an advertisement (C’mon, really, do you believe a tobacco company’s ads telling you that smoking will make you popular?). Most publications worth paying for keep a VERY high wall between their genuine articles/coverage, and their advertisements. Sure, they may carry quality paid content, called ‘paid advertising features,’ ‘infomercials’ or ‘advertorials,’ but most credible media will signal this as being separate from genuine editorial, through labels and typefaces. Personally, I just ignore that stuff. I’ll go for coverage I can actually count on, like, real journalism. Does anyone else here agree that there’s a difference between genuine journalism, and content produced by brands? You might accept content from a sports-equipment company on how to exercise, but would you trust content from a company that makes sugary drinks, telling you that its products aren’t getting in the way of keeping your weight down?

      • Joe Pulizzi

        Thanks Carl…totally agree that news sites need to be VERY careful when leveraging native advertising. Much easier for a site like Buzzfeed to do this (entertainment). If I’m a media company, I’m treading lightly in this area.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Stealing audience…yep, that’s the goal of native advertising.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Thanks Daniel…in the post I stated this – but maybe not definitive enough – that native advertising CAN be part of a content marketing strategy. But most times, it’s not – native is usually purchased by a different group than the person running the content marketing for the brand. It would be nice if it was integrated, but usually is not (at least not yet).

    And yes, it “could” and “should” be good, helpful content. There are many examples that are very good. I think the Shell piece that ran in the NYTimes was a great piece. But sadly, most content is not as good. I’ve seen a fair share of Forbes pieces that have been rather horrible. In one particular case, I know for a fact that the content marketing group had nothing to do with the content distributed on the native platform.

    So yes, it could and should be part of the content marketing, but most programs are not. I think we’d all like to see more integration.

    Thanks for the great comment!

    • Daniel Slomka

      The point is clearer, Joe, thanks for the reply. It seems that in the end, it all comes down to the quality of the promoted content.

  • Kenethe1234

    I really agree with your Points Joe! Native advertising can be a real good short-term approach to build your platform. Anyway thanks for such wonderful suggestion!

  • Kay Bush

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  • Rex Hammock

    QUOTE: “The next time someone uses content marketing or native advertising in the wrong scenario, please correct the person. Help us all speak the same language and be part of positive change for the world.”

    Are you suggesting that if we use the terms “content marketing” and “native advertising” with your definition we will change the world in a positive way?

    I have an idea. Let’s encourage people to say “marketing with content” “marketing with native adverting” “marketing with search.” That way, you can still have the Content Marketing Institute define what marketing content is … and those who belong to the Native Advertising Institute can define what native advertising is.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Rex…thanks for chiming in. To answer your question, yes I do. I believe that content marketing is a better way to go to market, it creates better customers, and provides real value outside the products or services we offer.

      On the second point, which also speaks to the first point, it’s a great thought but marketers don’t communicate that way (in my experience). A marketer doesn’t say “I’m marketing with search”. They say search marketing. They don’t say “marketing directly to individuals…”…they say direct marketing. Content marketing works because people actually are beginning to use it and understand it (at least we’re getting there). Custom content doesn’t work. Custom publishing doesn’t work. Custom media doesn’t work. Is it possible we finally found a phrase that marketers will use? Are their warts? Yes, but I’ll take it warts and all.

      Thanks again my friend.

      • Rex Hammock


        You and I started this discussion long before the term “content marketing” was used to describe media and content created to develop and strengthen the bonds between people called marketers and the people called customers.

        No doubt, we will continue.


        • Joe Pulizzi

          Now that we can agree on my friend! Hope you are well. It’s been too long.

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  • UnveiltheWeb

    Hi Joe,

    I think you made your point very well that the difference is in motive and cost to an outside source for placement of the content.

    Speaking the same language is so important because in working with over a hundred clients in the last 2 years they are very confused about what they can do and what they should do because the terms confuse them.

    I really believe many marketers and agencies like the lack of clarity because it forces the consumer (in this case businesses who need marketing of all types) to pay for the consulting or coaching that they may not otherwise need.

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for that it just means I agree with you that we could be much clearer and concise on our language.

    In my opinion your idea is extremely valid and the conversation is deeply needed.

    Have a great second half to your week!

    ~ Don Purdum

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Don! Really appreciate you chiming in.

  • J-P De Clerck

    Amen brother

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  • Lisa Dougherty

    Hi Rhia, thanks for your comment! There are a couple articles on responsive design if you would like to check them out: Hope that helps!

  • Tormod Sperstad

    Thumbs up, Joe!

  • David Boutin

    Great explanation of the differences. I think it’s also worthwhile to point out what native publishing is, as I think it’s becoming more and more important to marketers.

    A couple examples would be publishing video directly to Facebook (native publishing) vs. posting a link to a video that lives on your website (content marketing) or posting an original piece on a site like Medium or LinkedIn (native publishing) vs. a link to your blog post (content marketing).

    The advantages are basically the same as you mentioned for native advertising: for the user, a seamless experience – and for the platform, the visitors don’t leave.

    I’ve noticed native publishing is being heavily promoted by sites at the moment and there are opportunities to reach a lot of people by incorporating native publishing into your overall marketing strategy.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Thanks Andrew…not an evolution in my thinking, but an evolution of the awards for sure. We’ve been doing a better job of communicating requirements with the judges and focusing native in native categories and CM as consistent initiatives over time. It’s definitely an education for all of us. Thanks for the comment!

  • pguerrinha

    Hi Joe, I agree that we need to use the right terms to clarify what is Content Marketing. But how do you define the content that are created by a media, but paid? I’m talking about Valuable Content, written by journalists on some subject “designed to attract a clearly defined audience”.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi…if it’s just outsourced to other people to create, that doesn’t change the definitions. Most content marketing programs involve outside writers, producers, etc.

  • Oyundoyin Anthony

    Hi,this is a great information about native ad and content marketing.I think people are getting good result with native ads now than before.

  • motherearthproduct

    A way to deal with substance showcasing that is exceptionally well known and viable these days. Be that as it may, substance advertising (at the heart) is as it has dependably been. It is certainly one thing that your intended interest group can depend on the be the same constantly.

  • SunShine

    Anyone recall “advertorials” — paid ads dressed as editorial content in the print world. Native ads sound a lot like what we once called advertorials, which also was a term that was quickly understood, imho. So now we have internet advertorials… which is a term I much prefer over native ads

  • Tom

    It’s PR darling… or ‘paid for’ advertorials… Nothing has changed – apart from the industry terms. It’s just now all online…

    • SunShine

      Actually, you mean a technique or an approach used as part of a PR strategy. PR does not equal advertorials…or publicity.