Is Native Advertising the Same as Content Marketing?

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Many new terms are being bandied about in the marketing world these days: content marketing, brand journalism, sponsored content, native advertising … it’s often difficult for marketers to get on the same page about what each one is, let alone how to use them. In this article, we’ll look at two of the most popular terms and uncover the important differences between them.

Content marketing is everywhere these days. In fact you may be doing content marketing and not even realize it because the term seems to have evolved as an umbrella description to describe many common tactics. More recently however, the term native advertising emerged and has become one of the hottest trends in the marketing world, crisscrossing nearly every business sector. In many cases, marketers use these terms synonymously, but is native advertising really the same thing as content marketing?

The simple answer is no.


Content Marketing

Content marketing (sometimes called brand journalism or branded content) is best defined as: “a strategic marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action by changing or enhancing consumer behavior.”1

The primary characteristic of content marketing is the ownership and control over the media, as opposed to the renting or purchase of the placement. This ownership is an asset.

Content marketing includes tactics like informative and useful blogs, information and resource hubs, and brand microsites. Techniques include storytelling, use of humor, customer/client/consumer service, and education or problem solving.


Native Advertising

On the other hand, native advertising is considered “pay to play.” It is sponsored content that’s delivered in-stream of the publications, websites and platforms where your target audience is already consuming information. Brands pay for the placement of their content on platforms that they do not own.

Examples of native advertising include the age-old print advertorial, a paid editorial spot (or sponsored content), a sponsored video, a lightly branded infographic, or even a promoted search result or selection of recommended articles. These can appear in social media streams, like Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, in search results, or they can be embedded into publication feeds both online and in print.

Like the content brands own, native advertising content is useful, interesting, and highly targeted. Besides the fact that it is purchased, native advertising differs from content marketing in that it is presented in a way that makes it appear to “belong” in-stream where it appears (similar to the idea of product placement), reaching your target audience when they’re already in the mode of consuming reliable information. The purchased content is usually labeled, often subtly, as sponsored content, but is otherwise seamlessly embedded into the platform or publication stream.


Why should life science marketers be using native advertising?

Studies find that native ads are popular among marketers for a number of reasons:

  • As opposed to traditional banner ads, native ads produce both greater brand affinity and higher conversion rates, are not affected by ad blockers, and are not as disliked or mistrusted by users compared to traditional ads2
  • There’s evidence that internet users prefer native ads to other formats3
  • They appeal equally across a highly diversified audience, indicating greater consumer acceptance of this form of advertising4
  • They register a higher lift in purchase intent and brand affinity than banner ads5
  • Consumers are willing to look at them more frequently than display ads5
  • More people say that a native ad is one they would share versus a display ad5

One of the most distinctive advantages of this type of marketing is the potential to be “evergreen”. If a native advertising piece is genuinely useful to your audience, is properly optimized, and appears seamlessly in-stream of a publisher or platform that is already trusted by the consumer, it can attract high levels of targeted, organic traffic that lasts for years, generating ROI long after every other type of advertising has ceased to do so.

Native advertising is inherently risky, however: it’s a delicate balance between gaining trust by using an interesting and confluent approach and completely eroding it if executed poorly. Because trust is such a central issue for consumers and because there are no legal regulations governing native advertising at the moment, many publishers and platforms struggle with exactly how transparent they should be with this format. It’s important to choose a space that gets this balance right or you risk losing that coveted trust and loyalty of your customers.


Our best advice for life science marketers?

Native advertising’s forward march is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. According to one estimate, native ads already account for more than half of all digital display ad spending in the US, and is expected to climb to nearly three-quarters by 2021.6  It’s well worth exploring the myriad of creative opportunities within this context whether through video, advertorials, infographics, sponsored content — or something completely new and unique to your brand.

It’s worth taking the time to review both both excellent and awkward examples of how other brands have already used this medium and learn from both their successes and missteps.

It’s important no matter what approach you take to native advertising to remember that there is a high level of consumer trust at stake. Brands are advised to play it safe and adhere to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disclosure guidelines (or other applicable regional or industry standards) for labeling their content. Consumers have indicated they prefer native-style advertising, so don’t risk your brand reputation by attempting to sidestep the fact that the content is sponsored.

For more insights on marketing to a scientific audience, check out our  Lifescience Marketing 2.0 Blog. You can also learn more about native advertising opportunities on the Bitesize Bio content platform here or by clicking here to contact our Marketing Outreach Manager, Stephanie Larae.


Sources and Citations

  2. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford as cited in eMarketer Native Advertising Roundup, October 2016
  3. Survey by surveyed by Sharethrough and Qualtrics in Q4 2015 as cited in eMarketer Native Advertising Roundup, October 2016
  4. Yahoo News Infographic
  5. A Sharethrough/IPG Media Lab study found here:
  6. BI Intelligence, “The NativeAd Report: Revenue Forecasts, To Drivers, and the Rise of Sponsored Content and Programmatic Native” as cited on company website






Holly Gerberich is a freelance marketing writer for Lifescience Marketing 2.0. She lives in Washington DC but at any given time can be found underwater scuba diving, meandering through a foreign country, or camping in the mountains with her two dogs.

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