The IAB recently published a comprehensive report on native advertising, guiding the industry one step closer to an official definition.

To get everyone on the same page, for months they have been working with industry leaders to share knowledge and create a common language to talk about native. This culminated in the release the IAB Native Advertising Playbook, which is based on discussions from a task-force of companies in the ad space. The report looks at what types of native ads exist, and how what elements vary across each type of native ad.

There are two traits common to all native ads. One is disclosure language indicating that the ad content is "sponsored," "promoted," etc. Indicating that native ads are paid content is incredibly important, given the potential consumer backlash for blurring the lines between editorial and sponsored content.

The second trait that all native ads share is an aspiration for a less-interruptive form of advertising

Beyond these two commonalities, The Native Advertising Playbook acknowledges the wide variance in native advertising. Within that range, native ads fall into six categories:

  • In Feed Units
  • Paid Search Units
  • Recommendation Widgets
  • Promoted Listings
  • In-Ad (IAB Standard) with Native Element Units
  • Custom / “Can’t be Contained”


1. In-Feed Units

When native advertising comes up in conversation, in-feed ads are probably the first thing that comes to mind. In feed-ads can take on two forms: 1) sponsored articles/content, and 2) in-feed promotions.

The in-feed sponsored content ads are comprised of sponsored content that simply mirrors the form and function of other content available in a feed. Examples of these kinds of in-feed native ads include sponsored content on BuzzFeed, Gawker, Forbes BrandVoice and Mashable.

As second type of in-feed native ad is a promotion ads. These ads appear in-stream, but instead of being "content ads" they focus on direct response and link to content off of the site.

Examples of in-feed promotion ads include the non-content ads on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Sharethrough and LinkedIn.


2. Paid Search Units

Paid search ads are promoted direct-response ads that appear along with search results. These ads are presented in a format and layout similar to organic results, except that they are indicated to be sponsored.

Paid search ad units were one of the original native ad formats to achieve massive scale.


3. Recommendation Widgets

Recommendation widgets are a growing category as advertisers are looking to new avenues to distribute their content marketing efforts. They allow sites to monetize their traffic by recommending content via a widget. Advertisers can then spend to have a preview of their content featured in these widgets.

One big difference in this category is that many of the other native ad units mimic surrounding content for a more native feel. Recommendation widgets take the opposite approach—they tend to always look the same, even from site to site. The native experience for these widgets then comes from the consistent user experience across many sites, which allows them to still blend in to some degree.

The front runners in this category are Outbrain, Taboola, Disqus and Gravity.


4. Promoted Listings

Promoted listings are a type of direct response ad that matches the browsing experience that is somewhat similar to in-feed promotions and paid search ads. These ads have their own category because they are found on sites that do not have traditional editorial content. The native product promotion on shopping sites like Etsy and Amazon are examples of this type of native ad.


5. In-Ad (IAB Standard)

The IAB-Standard native ad category is composed of native ads that come in standard IAB containers (e.g. 300x250 or 300x600 banners).

In this case, what makes these ads native is that they contain contextually-relevant content within the ad. By layering in native form and functionality on top of an already existing IAB standard, these types of ads can be easier to ingrate and scale for sites that already offer a lot of IAB standard inventory.

At Flite, we frequently work with premium publishers to develop these kinds of ads as premium ad products.


6. Custom / Can't Be Contained

Some native ads are simply to specific to a platform to be contained in a group. These ads are obviously native, but are too custom to be contained in one of the above types. Examples include Spotify and Pandora's sponsored playlists, as well as Flipboard's signature native ads. As the industry evolves, new native ad categories will likely emerge from the most prevalent in this bunch.

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Want to dig deeper into native ad formats?

Check out our free eBook, 9 Examples of Native Advertising: What They Are and Why They Work.