Is Native Advertising Content Marketing?

Native advertising is designed to blend seamlessly into any given platform, almost as if its regular, non-sponsored content. So that means it’s content marketing, right?

It does, according to Jeff Soriano, senior director of demand generation at user-generated content (UGC) marketing platform Offerpop. In his opinion, the rise of social media led to an explosion of UGC that has transformed the consumer into the marketer.

He offers McCormick as an example. A few years back, the seasonings brand tapped consumers to take pictures of the recipes they made with the company’s products. They shared their pictures on Facebook, for other users to vote on. After the campaign, McCormick’s sales increased 34 percent year-over-year.

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“That’s really native to a social experience because that’s what we do,” Soriano says. “We look at our feeds, we see what our friends have posted, we see what other people we don’t even know have posted and for some reason, we’re really interested in that stuff, more than what a brand would say.”

Because more and more consumers are creating content that’s ultimately used by brands, it’s Soriano’s opinion that the line separating content marketing and native advertising has gotten completely blurry. Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, couldn’t disagree more.

No, It Isn’t!

ClickZ wasn’t able to connect with Pulizzi due to his busy travel schedule, though he directed us to an August CMI blog post entitled, “Native Advertising Is Not Content Marketing.” Pulizzi believes the distinction is important, as consistent language creates an industry standard.

“If you pay for placement, it’s advertising,” he wrote. “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.”

SEO company Moz also believes there is a line between content marketing and native advertising, having done research comparing the two earlier this year with Fractl, a Florida content marketing agency. Analyzing Fractl content marketing campaigns and native ads on BuzzFeed, the research found the content marketing generated significantly more links (an average of 27 versus an average of 1) and shares (847 and 373, respectively). These numbers are despite BuzzFeed’s massive volume of traffic – the site is the 38th most visited in the U.S. and 111th in the world, according to Alexa rankings – and big-name brand partners.

Middle of the Road

Scott Severson, president of Minneapolis content marketing agency Brandpoint, has a more moderate approach to the separation between the two tactics. Severson believes that native advertising is content marketing, but that content marketing isn’t necessarily native advertising.

“I think content marketing refers to a broad spectrum of tactics that are all about having that direct connection with your audience through developing and publishing your own content,” Severson says. “Within that big umbrella of content marketing, native advertising is certainly a tactic within that, but I don’t see them as being synonymous.”

Severson considers native advertising to be content marketing when it’s just one tactic deployed in a larger marketing mix. A native ad in isolation, he doesn’t think counts as content marketing.

“If it’s good, consumers don’t care that it’s sponsored content,” he says. “They care more about if it’s providing value and if it’s quality, versus whether or not it’s sponsored content.”

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