Most of you are exposed to hundreds, maybe thousands, of ads in the span of just one day. In a world that is always switched-on and plugged-in, messages like “buy now” and “subscribe here” are difficult to escape. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many people have developed natural “adblockers” to tune out and turn off ads. In order to adapt to an oversaturated market, advertisers have come up with smarter, stealthier and subliminal ways to sneak past the defences of their target consumer — like native advertising and content marketing.

What is Native Advertising?

Native Advertising is the practice of disguising an ad via the strategic placement to make it appear “native” and non-disruptive within its environment.

CMI says “Native advertising spots must be placed with the audience in mind.

Matt Cohen, CEO of OneSpot used the example of promoted tweets on Twitter: “Promoted tweets are native to the Twitter browsing experience. These advertisements aren’t asking you to do something other than what you’ve come to the website to do already.

Why the Confusion?

Unfortunately, the term “Native Advertising” is often used interchangeably with “Content Marketing” — even though there are immense differences between the two practices.

In addition, both terms are incredibly buzz-worthy at the moment. Buzzwords tend to be used often by so many people that definitions can get a little muddled.

What’s the Difference?

Although native advertising isn’t as upfront and in-your-face as more traditional methods, the consumer is still being sold a product or service — and this is where content marketing differentiates itself.

While the goal of a content marketer is to ultimately increase sales, he/she accomplishes this by building a trusting, lasting relationship with their target consumer (and eventually converting them into a customer). They do so with content — content that doesn’t sell a product or service. Instead, the content offered is meant to benefit the consumer in some way, whether its purpose is to educate, entertain, etc. It’s a slow burn approach to marketing.

Additionally, the two practices differ because native advertisements, although they “fit” where they’re placed, are paid for. The only money involved in content marketing is the cost of labour that goes into creating it.

If you’re paying to put your content somewhere, it’s advertising, not marketing.

The Processes

The processes of both practices differ from each other, too. In Native Advertising, there are generally three steps:

  1. Create the content.
  2. Place the content in its “native” home.
  3. Sell the product/service to the consumers who were directed from the native advertisement.

The steps themselves are similar for Content Marketing – but the timing is very different:

  1. Create the content.
  2. Publish the content.
  3. Sell the product/service to people who were directed from the content.

In Native Advertising, each step comes after each other, in order and in quick succession. However, in Content Marketing steps one and two are repeated over and over again to establish an intimate connection with the potential customer.

The consumer will ideally return to the website/new content many times before thinking about the possibility of converting. A consumer likely won’t make it to step three until they have gone through the first two steps multiple times. Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz said that “At Moz it’s on average 7.5 visits (to the website) before someone takes a free trial.

The Perfect Match

Content marketing will always take longer than native advertising, but it can be more effective depending on your goals. Nonetheless, to be a fully effective content marketer, you can take advantage of native advertising.

By paying to put your content in more locations, you can widen its reach and increase its impact. By financially sponsoring your content you can:

  1. Give your audience a boost, and reach consumers you haven’t yet.
  2. Extend the shelf life of your content by promoting older/repurposed pieces.

If you decide to adopt native advertising to contribute to your content marketing plan or vice versa, the practices can pair very well. Providing relevant and meaningful content to a large audience will always be beneficial to your business.

Just remember: When promoting your content on various channels, make sure you keep your buyer personas and publishing locations in mind to avoid any outrage.


If you’re paying to display your content, it’s advertising.

If the ads inform the consumer and sell your product in a subtle manner, it’s native advertising.

If you’re creating content that is published on a blog or another property that you own, and the primary goal is to inform a reader without convincing them directly to purchase, it’s content marketing.

Whichever route you decide works best for your business, don’t forget that you can make use of both strategies in order to promote your brand.