Native Advertising vs Content Marketing: Which Is Better?

Native Advertising vs Content Marketing

We’ve all seen these terms being thrown around, but what are the actual differences between them, and which marketing strategy should you use?

Native Advertising vs Content Marketing

If you have even the slightest interest in contemporary marketing strategies, chances are, you’ve heard of native advertising and content marketing – the big go-to buzzwords of today’s marketing landscape.

Some marketeers see the two strategies as mostly similar tools and may even consider one as a subset of the other. That’s understandable, given that both seek to provide content that adds value to consumers in a manner that is clearly different from traditional advertising.

But there are key differences between the native advertising and content marketing, which are important to consider when deciding between one strategy and the other. To start, let’s go back to the basics.

What exactly is native advertising?

There’s some debate on how we should define native advertising, but the general consensus is that native advertising is paid media content that is created and distributed on a separate media platform, and is designed to be relevant and/or valuable to that platform’s audience.

One way to think of native advertising is to consider it as a modern, updated version of the advertorial – a solution that blurs the lines between advertising and editorial content – just gentler and subtler.

The key is that native ads are considered “native” to the platform on which they appear because they match the form and function of usual content, to create a non-disruptive user experience that attracts more eyeballs than conventional ads.

And content marketing?

We’ve already written extensively about content marketing, but perhaps a quick recap is in order. According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on consistently creating and distributing valuable, relevant content to attract a clearly defined audience, earning their loyalty and ultimately their business.

Content marketing is user-oriented in the sense that informs, educates or entertains in ways that add value to the intended audience, rather than trying to sell them a product right off the bat.

Is there really a difference?


By now, you’re probably thinking that native advertising and content marketing sound pretty similar in their methods and objectives. After all, both seem to employ indirect methods to market a brand (as opposed to more straightforward hard-sell methods), by providing consumers with relevant, value-adding content that ultimately drives up brand awareness and demand.

But the differences are pretty clear-cut. Essentially, if you’re paying to put anything up on a third-party platform (basically renting space from someone else), that’s advertising. What makes advertising native is that the content is designed to blend in with other non-promotional content on the platform, and is thus expected to add value to the consumer in some form.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is not advertising; it’s devoid of the pay-for-play aspect of native ads (and advertisements in general). Instead, it is a commitment to creating consistent, valuable and relevant content that is placed on your own platform.

Native ads are still ads…


It’s the age of the cynical consumer, which is why marketeers are turning to more complex forms of marketing in the first place. And native ads, no matter how “native” or non-disruptive, are still pay-for-play advertisements disguised as editorial content, so they run the risk of turning off consumers who may feel cheated after consuming content that they later find out was sponsored, resulting in counterproductive outcomes for your marketing campaign.

Also, despite the third-party platform’s attempts at “nativeness”, native ads usually require labels, which pose a big problem when trying to reach savvy ad-weary audiences who are adept at avoiding what they perceive as promotional content.

…but they give you access to already-established audiences

But native advertising also has its advantages: generally, it requires less time investment and commitment, since third-party platforms already have access to an audience that your brand can tap into.

Instead of having to cultivate an audience from scratch, native ads enable brands to immediately capitalise on the existing audiences of established and reputable third-party platforms.

This means that the pay-off for native advertising campaigns can be expected much sooner as opposed to content marketing, which is a long-term, continuous commitment that requires a significant period of time before you can really see results.

Of course, native ads with top-tier partners (think Time, the New York Times, or even Buzzfeed) don’t come cheap. But you’re paying a premium for your brand to potentially reach well-established audiences at a trusted, quality platform.

Content marketing pays off in the long run


But if you’re willing to wait it out, research has shown that content marketing yields higher overall returns on investment, especially when you consider that a native ad campaign doesn’t come cheap either. While both native ads and content marketing can raise brand awareness, experts note that the latter is generally better at boosting SEO value and encouraging conversions.

For one, research shows that on average, content marketing garners more links and shares than native advertising, possibly because user-engagement with what is perceived as promotional content is generally much lower.

Content marketing also has much greater potential for growing deeper, more organic connections with potential customers and converts. It is first and foremost user-oriented; created based on the needs and interests of your audience, and designed to cultivate lasting loyalty for, affinity with, and conversions to your brand.

So…which strategy should I use?

At the end of the day, whichever strategy you choose for your brand should really depend on your specific needs and constraints. That being said, the two options aren’t mutually exclusive; great marketing campaigns incorporate elements of different marketing strategy in order to reach audiences and sell the brand. What’s most important is that you understand ins and outs of each strategy and make an informed decision based on what you think the best fit for your brand.