Mention "native advertising" to a media buyer these days, and he or she will ask what exactly you mean by it. Advertorials? Promoted Tweets? Search ads? Sponsored content?
The term has become industry shorthand for any ad product that isn't a banner and looks like the content around it, or anything the Interactive Advertising Bureau hasn't standardized. It's the ad industry's latest salespitch, and not without reason. Banner ads are broken, so marketers and ad-sellers alike have a good reason to at least attempt to move beyond them.
Publishers have created some really interesting innovations in the name of "native" advertising, but can we agree that we should all stop calling them "native?"
Forbes has received a lot of attention for letting marketers pay to publish articles on the business publication's site. Forbes has also received a lot of criticism for blurring the separation between editorial and advertising. Letting advertisers move from a site's sidelines to plant themselves among editorial, as Forbes has done most obviously and The Atlantic most infamously, is the essence of native advertising. But it's not that new of a concept.
If not native, then... Advertorials. There is little, if any difference, between these paid-for columns and the sponsored spreads that have been appearing in print magazines for years.
BuzzFeed branded content
BuzzFeed is among the companies most responsible for the native advertising fad. Many in the industry have to come to view the articles BuzzFeed's team creates with an advertiser and are designed to achieve a similar level of social interest as the site's cat GIF listicles as native advertising's paragon.
If not native, then... Sponsored articles. Unless a brand or its agency is wholly responsible for actually creating the articles they're paying to appear on a publisher's site, it's not an advertorial. Like how a TV show "brought to you by [insert brand]" is a sponsored program, not an infomercial.
Vox Media's Fish Tank Ads
To Vox Media's credit, the parent company of news sites The Verge, SB Nation and Polygon doesn't pitch its new suite of display ads as "native." They're custom. If an advertiser wants to run one of these magazine-like banners that appear while scrolling through a home page or article, they have to do it on one of Vox's sites. Say Media has a similar ad product, but again advertisers are limited to Say Media properties.
If not native, then... Custom ads. This is a preemptive measure to make sure that the bespoke banners Vox Media, Say Media and others have developed specifically (or "natively") for their sites don't get swept into the native mix.
Yahoo's Stream Ads
One of the biggest sellers of traditional display ads, Yahoo has been making a hard pivot toward native under Marissa Mayer. The portal dubbed as such the more prominent of the two major ad products introduced since the former Google exec took over as CEO. And those Stream Ads fit the bill. They run within the Yahoo home page's news feed -- and recently rolled out to category pages like Yahoo Sports -- and are designed to appear as article entries alongside their organic counterparts. These paid in-stream entries are online publishers' takes on Twitter's Promoted Tweets.
If not native, then... In-stream ads. These ads often link to the same landing pages as would be the case with a standard banner. They are only described as "native" because of their aesthetics and placement.
Twitter's Promoted Tweets
As noted above, Twitter has provided the template for online publishers to intersperse ads among organic content. Facebook followed suit with Sponsored Stories in users' news feeds, as has Tumblr. But what separates these tech-companies-cum-publishers from media companies like Yahoo adopting the model is that Twitter et al. make sure the content in their ads is proprietary. For example, you can't create a Promoted Tweet without first creating a tweet.
If not native, then... Promoted Tweets for Twitter, Sponsored Stories for Facebook, etc. Until one of these ad units can be run outside of their given environment, let's call them what they are.
Google's Search Ads
The granddaddy of native advertising, paid listings on search results pages are often cited as the original native ad unit. They take what might otherwise appear in front of a user and get advertisers' to pay to insure that it does. Twitter's Promoted Tweets and Facebook's Sponsored Stories are social descendants of the ads originated by Overture and popularized by Google.
If not native, then... Search ads. Though native advertising's pioneer, these ads have stood apart as predecessors. That doesn't need to change.
For more in-depth information about native advertising, purchase this Advertising Age research report here.