Common misconceptions about native advertising versus how it actually works

Jenny Aysgarth
May 16 · 6 min read

In our line of work we meet new customers literally every week. However, while all of them come to us seeking for some native integration of their brand, only a small fraction understands what it actually is. Actually, 7 out of 10 customers expect something dramatically different (and, on top of that, more traditional).

What native advertising actually is? It is advertising that fits the context of its medium, appeals to the target audience, and promotes its sponsor in an unobtrusive way.

Here’s an example. A few years ago, the New York Times published a profound feature on female inmates, which also happened to promote Orange Is the New Black. First of all, it was a profound analysis of a serious social phenomenon. Promotion of a web series was just in line with the chosen topic. And it worked perfectly.

Still, the issue of misconstruing native ads persists. Of course, it’s not the client’s fault that they don’t really understand how native advertising works. It’s not even their job, it’s our job. Even though we do our best to convey the general idea of native ads, we often find ourselves saying the same things over and over again.

Here’s what it’s all about.


Expectations: The more we sing hosanna to the sponsor, the better the advertising. We should include another praise in every other sentence, otherwise the ad won’t work.

Reality: Singing praise doesn’t work. Or, more accurately, it doesn’t work in areas other than Apple events or Superbowl commercials. And even in those cases it’s not a direct eulogy. No matter the audience, they’re not interested in reading a longread about how cool and awesome our sponsor is.

Direct advertising is like a flyer some weird guy gave you on the street. You rarely look at it, and even if you do, you can’t recall what it was about even five minutes later. Native advertising is like a book that an even weirder guy gave you on the street. And when you start reading it, you find a flyer, which is totally a bookmark but also conveys some info on the customer who ordered it in the first place.

So, here’s the deal:

  • The audience will not engage with any content that they find uninteresting.
  • Direct advertising is not interesting to anyone.
  • Native advertising combines promotional content with interesting information, thus reaching the target audience.

Call to action

Expectations: There have to be billions of links and banners leading to the sponsor’s website, otherwise the audience might not notice them and won’t go there.

Reality: The audience are not idiots. If they find your offering interesting, they will be perfectly happy with just one link in a reasonable place. If they don’t find your offering interesting, they won’t interact with any of your links no matter how many of them you use.

Moreover, if those links are scattered across the text, it just induces repulsion in anyone who sees it. It’s perceived as borderline violence and hysteria. And it’s very unlikely that a sponsor would enjoy being associated with any of those things.

Placing links or banners all over the text is very much like attacking an unsuspecting pedestrian with aggressive shouting while shooting fireworks in the sky and trying to force-feed them a pecan pie that they are allergic to. Even if the pecan pie is really good and fireworks are genuinely beautiful, the victim of said attack would hardly appreciate it. He or she will run away, and then most likely report the incident to the police. And rightfully so.

So, to sum it up:

  • The greatest appeal of native ads is the fact that they’re interesting.
  • One or two links are more than enough in most cases.
  • The more links you use, the more the reader would see it as a failed attempt at brainwashing.

Going Viral

Expectations: The more hyped things, the better. They like memes? Make an ad entirely out of memes. If it’s a meme, they will share it nonetheless.

Reality: The audience don’t like memes. They like funny things that happen to have the form of memes. The majority of attempts to ride the hype look extremely cheap and useless. Let alone not funny at all.

Using memes or any other hyped thing to promote your brand mostly resembles dad jokes in their worst incarnation. It looks like an attempt of a person with a severe midlife crisis to look young by dressing as a hip-hop star and roller-skating to a rave. Nobody would take that person seriously. They would laugh at them behind their backs, or even straight to their face. You can use jokes to promote a brand, but they shouldn’t be parasitizing on some century-old memes or just repeating something that had worked once in the past. Jokes are good. Just come up with your own.

So, in a word:

  • The prerequisite of going viral is the appeal to the audience.
  • Using allegedly ‘hyped’ things to boost up the campaign doesn’t work but looks very cheap.
  • And once again: if the audience finds it interesting, they will share it out of their own volition.


Expectations: We pay you for a review, so it should say that our product is awesome. No matter what it actually is, we make sure you say good things by giving you money. So just write whatever we tell you.

Reality: Any review that covers the good things without mentioning any shortcomings is obviously biased. Who’s interested in reading biased reviews? That’s right, nobody. Moreover, it’s just unethical (and sometimes illegal) to lie about the product. And it’s bad for business, yours and ours alike. Not to mention it is repulsive to the audience (and therefore inefficient).

You can’t expect one to say your product cures AIDS, establishes democracy in North Korea and prevents global economic crises. Especially because it’s a pretzel. It’s just a crooked bun that may taste good but also may not. It’s a carbohydrate time bomb. So don’t expect a review of your pretzel to be evangelistic. The review is much better when we say how exactly you make your pretzels; and why you started your pretzel-making business in the first place. It adds some personality to the entire thing. Then we ask four seasoned foodies what they think of your pretzels, and even if one of them says it sucks, we still quote them. It adds honesty and perspective to the review. When three out of four people say your pretzel is good, it’s more likely to be good. But if you don’t like it, you can always side with the fourth person. As a result, the review is unbiased and still attracts people to your product. And no unethical lies about it being a magical cure.

So, that’s how it goes:

  • Honesty is the best policy.
  • Sincerity is better than boasting.
  • You cannot appeal to everyone.


So, in conclusion, here are some observations that one should always keep in mind if they want some native advertising of their product.

  • Nobody likes boring things.
  • Nobody likes being force-fed.
  • Nobody likes lame attempts at being edgy.
  • Nobody likes being lied to.

If you do any of those things, it will be just a huge waste of time, money, and effort. Instead, make sure you do these things:

  • Make your content interesting and useful.
  • Respect the person’s right to make their own conclusions.
  • Don’t try to look like something you’re clearly not.
  • Never lie to your audience.

That’s all for today. Stay tuned.

Custom media, branded content, and consulting services for tech companies

Jenny Aysgarth

Written by

Custom media, branded content, and consulting services for tech companies

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