Creative, Mobile, Retargeting

Going Native: Why Native Ads Are Key to Customer Engagement

Written by Tim Edmundson

Have you ever clicked on an eye catching post in your News Feed that features a stylish pair of boots, or a slick new gadget, only to realize it’s an ad after the fact? That’s native advertising at its best.

To be effective, digital ads should always evolve to match what users are looking for. Native ads are the latest example of marketers finding the right mix of ad placement, creative, tone, and messaging to connect with their audience. And the connection is strong – a recent report by Facebook found that consumers engage with native advertisements 20% to 60% more than standard banner ads, and result in 3X higher user retention.

With native ads it’s about providing additional value that consumers find appealing, especially on social and mobile. So if you’re not already incorporating this type of advertising into your strategy, now’s the time to reconsider. Here’s what you need to know to get started.


If you’re not familiar with the concept of native ads, here’s a quick primer.

To be considered native, an ad needs to match the natural experience of the site or app that it’s found on.

In 2013 the IAB created The Native Advertising Playbook to bring some clarity and guidance to the native advertising landscape. Amongst their guidance, they said “Most advertisers and publishers aspire to deliver paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.”

And they’re right – the ideal ad for many marketers is one that doesn’t jolt a user out of a good experience, but rather compliments it. To synchronize ads with user expectations, marketers should look to find the best way to seamlessly include their product offerings into the user experience. This has led to a number of different types of native ads, all with their own form.

The IAB classifies native ads into six general categories:

1. In-Feed: Think ads you’ll find in your Facebook News Feed.

2. Paid Search: The top four ad placements on Google’s SERP are a prime example.

3. Recommendation Widgets: If you’ve seen an “Around the Web” section after an article that features related links to other websites, you’ve seen one of these.

4. Promoted Listings: These are products on ecommerce sites like Amazon that have a “sponsored” tag on them.

5. In-Ad (IAB Standard): Describes standard ads that are found outside of a site’s editorial area, but are contextually linked to the content on the page.

6. Custom: This classification is a sort of catch-all for any additional types of native ads that don’t fit the categories above. A good example is Spotify’s custom playlists that have been assembled by brands, such as “Songs we sing in the shower” by Herbal Essences.


Of all the native ad formats, there is one poised to become the master of its domain – the In-Feed ad. These ads are the sponsored content that populate social feeds, and are the most common native ad format. If you’re going to be active with native advertising, In-Feed is a good place to be.

With mobile and social media increasingly becoming the same thing (Facebook reports 1.4 billion mobile monthly active users), they present an enormous opportunity for native ads. User engagement is high when it comes to these channels, with the numbers bearing it out:

Based on an eye test, consumers are more receptive to native ads; 25% more consumers looked at native ads than standard display units.

Native mobile ads have seen an increased CTR of 128%.

32% of consumers said they would share a native ad with family or friends.

These numbers speak to the effectiveness of the format, and show that you can successfully broadcast your brand’s message while not being seen as overly invasive.


We recently discussed the importance of your presence in mobile apps, and how mobile is booming in terms of both user numbers and engagement. Facebook is the titan of mobile apps, which means if you’re advertising on mobile, you should be advertising on Facebook.

To help marketers effectively reach their audiences and take advantage of Facebook’s engagement and reach, SteelHouse recently launched Facebook Dynamic Retargeting. Its functionality matches well with the basics of what makes native advertising effective – it allows you to dynamically populate the product name, image, and click URL based on an individual user’s behavior. That sort of personalization creates an ad that matches a user’s interests, and better blends in with the content they will find interesting in their News Feed.

Because you want your ad to naturally fit with the user experience, you should ensure it matches the level of expectation a user has for quality content. Our recommendations for retargeting are well documented, and if you want your ads to perform, you should always ensure you are hitting the basics when it comes to your creative:

Include a strong call to action – customers often need a nudge to pull the trigger on a purchase, so craft a message that will get them clicking.

Your visuals need to stand out and draw your customers’ eyes – so make them pop. Vibrant colors and filters are key ways to make your ad stand out from the crowd.

Offer real value –  give your customer a reason to click; a good deal can often be the most motivating.

Native advertising is effective, alluring, and vital to any strong marketing strategy. They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second best time is right now. Apply that same wisdom to your native ad efforts – if you aren’t already creating compelling native ads, there’s no time like the present.