Native advertising, which integrates the hosting site’s style, tone, and content focus into an ad format, stands in stark contrast to the traditional banner ad, which, if anything, tries very hard to stand out. Because of their touted ability to provide a congruent experience for users, native ads avoid the scourge of ad blindness and are more likely to create a more favorable impression on users. Are these assumptions true?

According to a study spearheaded by IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough, native advertising outperforms banner advertising in all measured metrics...but one. However, the definitions of native and banner ads used for the purposes of the study might be up for contention: the native ad is contextually embedded, while the banner is relegated to the right rail of the page. It's unclear how much of an impact position alone had on the results.

Credit: SharethroughThe study, which polled 4,770 Web users, and also additionally eyeball-tracked 200 participants, compared users’ response to and interaction with native ads (contextually positioned, and with content) vs both banner ads (a medium rectangle positioned in the right rail) and site content. The difference in position raises questions about the results, at least in my mind. Would a banner placed in the flow of site content perform better than the study’s results indicate?

At any rate, here are the results:

    Native   Banner
Visual Engagement
View frequency     +53%     baseline
Average views per session     4.1     2.7
Brand Lift
Brand favorability     32%     23%
Purchase intent     52%     34%
Brand affinity     +9%     baseline
Would share with family or friend     32%     19%
Can personally identify with brand
   (among customers)
    71%     50%
Brand recall     25%     38%


Yes, that last row is correct: banner ads outperformed native ads with respect to brand recall. Chris Schreiber, VP of Marketing and Communications at Sharethrough, explains: "If you think about it, a banner ad is just a big logo, typically."

That's probably true. And it's not always clear if the association with the brand, when recalled, is overwhelmingly positive. Remember over two-thirds of polled Web users report being "annoyed" by online ads, presumably the more widespread, traditional display/banner format than the emerging but relatively rare native kind. Advertiser-supplied content isn't as likely to be resented as annoying or distracting if it provides value in line with the kind the site itself offers.

But this is just speculation. The numbers provide indicative insights into how actual consumers perceive native ads, and hopefully this study is only one of many to help guide advertisers interested in using this novel approach.