Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising

By Charlie Patel November 02, 2015 1 Comments
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Does it feel like there are too many buzzwords in the digital marketing space, and the terms “content marketing” and “native advertising” constantly seem to find their way into the conversation? Maybe, it’s just me. Regardless, both are essential to to businesses as part of their overall online marketing strategies. After all, content is king and advertising is still the best way to let millions of people know about your brand and products. However, both channels have different structures that need to be understood to get the maximum value out of your time and marketing dollars.

Audiences are swaying away from traditional media and are now spending more time online (web and mobile). Therefore, the power of new media should not be underestimated – viral videos, social campaigns, and the reach of networks have revolutionized the way information is distributed. (example = Triberr 🙂 )

Let’s compare content marketing and native advertising by reviewing the numbers to determine what works best for brands.

What is Content Marketing?

At its most basic level, content marketing occurs when an agency or business create brand campaigns to increase publicity for their product, service, or brand. The campaign is subsequently pitched to publishers, such as Huffington Post or Forbes Magazine, that have a large audience whose demographics match the ideal client for the campaign. This mutual relationship can either be paid or free (though it’s usually the latter). As long as the publisher sees a value provided to their audience, the brand and its campaign get integrated into the content. This leads to the campaign achieving one or more of the desired results – a much-needed boost in SEO, exposure, or brand recognition.

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Content Marketing Institute

Good content marketing campaigns give companies exposure to millions of visitors, both from the publisher’s direct traffic, as well as their social media channels. Readers are then likely to read and click on the links within the content that ultimately lead to the brand’s website thus driving traffic,  user engagement, and transactions. 

What is Native Advertising?

On the other hand, native advertising occurs when a brand and its campaign partner with a single publisher. These paid or “sponsored” posts are articles published in the style and tone of the platform. It is usually written by the advertiser, and not a member of the publisher’s editorial team. Here’s an infographic by Inc showcasing compelling statistics on the effectiveness of native advertising (note: it looks promising!).

reddit native ad
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An example of a native ad on Reddit. It’s an AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview, a popular post type on Reddit. It’s clearly an ad, but it mirrors the type of content seen on Reddit.

The difference between content marketing and native advertising is quite simple: native advertising campaigns are advertorials and pieces of content that promote a clear call to action, such as urging users to watch a TV show or buy something. They are also written by the advertiser and are aptly labeled as a “sponsored post” or “promoted post”.

Meanwhile, content marketing pieces are written by members of the publishing platform’s editorial staff. Topics are pitched to numerous publishers and the publisher may accept the proposal if it matches their editorial needs. The content can be featured articles, videos, or exclusive interviews that provide value to the publisher’s audience rather than simply being a self-serving advertisement on the publisher’s site.

The cost of native advertising is quite expensive, according to research from Fractl and Moz, especially if you’re aiming to have your ads displayed on top-tier publishers such as Time and Refinery 29. Check out the chart below from their study that shows some costs for native advertising on some large publishers. Clearly, not for your average blogger.

Credit: and Fractl Research
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Credit: and Fractl Research

In terms of content marketing, the Fractl research states:

“Content marketing costs largely relate to the scope of the projects being produced (e.g., press releases versus interactive graphics) and their reach (e.g., influencer marketing versus no outreach).

We found that a price tag of between $5,000-$50,000 correlated with campaigns that generated the most links, which suggests that agencies were able to produce innovative, larger-scope campaigns, influencer marketing, and content amplification, rather than just issuing press releases.”

Depending on your marketing budget, either one of these strategies will take up a significant amount of time and dollars.

Return of Investment (ROI)

There is no concrete way to measure ROI, but Fractl created this nifty calculator which can roughly determine how much bang you received from the buck you spent on your content marketing or native advertising campaign. It’s a rough estimate, but you can’t exactly monetize how much money you will receive from social media shares, making this calculator your best bet. 

Content and native advertising is a long term game; you are bound to yield results from your campaigns if the content has been exposed to thousands of readers and been shared multiple times on social media.

The Downsides 

Native Ads

Although native ads can give much-needed exposure to a brand or company, they have several problems:

  • According to a case study by Contently, sponsored posts have trust issues. Users are less likely to click on anything that is labeled “sponsored” and would rather read organic content.
  • Google considers sponsored posts as paid links. This means they won’t dish out any SEO mileage or benefits.
  • Native advertising requires certain in-depth knowledge of the publisher’s audience, industry, scope, content makeup, and overall tone. If one is to spend money on native advertising, it is best to have someone who fully understands the publisher’s audience profile. 

However, a well-placed and interesting native ad will be able to stir up interest and give your brand a positive lift when done right.

Content Marketing

A well executed content marketing campaign can generate traffic to your website or product. However, in order to pull off a good content marketing campaign, one must have…well…good content. It sounds simple, however, not many people are able to craft stories and experiences that truly engage with customers.

Face it! Content marketing is very difficult. If you are thinking of creating a content marketing campaign, but do not fully understand the underlying details behind such a campaign, it is better to hire someone who does or engage in other forms of advertising. Not knowing the correct way to build a content marketing campaign can results in thousands of dollars lost, hundreds of hours lost, or negative brand value.

Examples of Great Content Marketing

Purina, the large pet food company, teamed up with Buzzfeed Video, Facebook, Youtube and other video publishers to create a very successful content marketing campaign. In the video below, you will see content marketing at its finest. By the end of the video, you won’t realize the commercial is a spot for Purina. Instead, Buzzfeed was able to tell a heartwarming story of what it means to be a first time puppy owner. They created a connection with Buzzfeed viewers through a short video filled with cuteness, comedy, and intrigue.

To take it a step further, Purina then created, a content-focused site that assists puppy owners with learning more about grooming, nutrition, health, behavior, etc. This is an excellent way to use the power of content to funnel potential customers to your own website.

Check out the continuation of the story as a Facebook Video post below:

Puppyhood: Our First Poop – Get their first year right. Visit for all your puppy needs.

Examples of Native Advertising

The Onion is known for writing comical, satire articles. By carefully crafting their message, H&R Block was able to insert their ad in a way that plays into the article and the fun spirited nature of The Onion’s readers.

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Yes, it’s a sponsored post, but it’s not blatantly obvious. Instead, it’s mentioned as a “commercial endeavor” which is simply a clever word-smithing to mean it’s an ad.

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Here’s a sponsored post campaign that went wrong. It’s a bad PR move by The Atlantic considering that Scientology is highly controversial. Sure, the Atlantic did sell that ad space for some astronomical cost, but the negative feedback it received was clearly not worth the advertorial. This goes to show that native advertising is also a two way street, where the publisher must be careful about the context of the advertiser’s message and how its audience perceives that subject matter.

Lesson: Don’t just let just anyone put up sponsored posts on your website. Bad native ads are not only defined by how they are arranged in a page, but also on who and what they represent. 

So, now that we’ve beat these topics to a pulp, what say you? Are you allowing sponsored posts on your site or engaging in native advertising elsewhere? Or are you a content marketing buff? Thoughts welcome below.

Charlie Patel

Charlie is always up to something. As a serial entrepreneur, he is CEO of Triberr - a content marketing suite and influencer marketing platform, - a leading podcast host and directory, 99 Robots - a digital marketing & WordPress development agency, Ampfluence - an Instagram growth agency, and several other ambitious startups. He likes random emails from users, loves story-telling, but dislikes being in the spotlight.

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