It would be hard to find a hotter buzz-term in marketing than so-called "native advertising," which means a lot of things to different people but boils down to ads that look and feel like the content that surrounds them. At this point, everyone is latching onto the term, even when they shouldn't.
Criticisms of the concept include: it's just a re-brand of "sponsored content;" they're labor intensive to make; and, most damning, they just don't scale. A beautifully-compiled sponsored list on BuzzFeed may reach an audience of 100,000, but billions of banner ads are served each day, so the notion that native even comes close to the display's scale is a pipe dream.
"To be completely native, you must match the user experience of each individual publisher deploying the technology, so in essence, native advertising does not scale." wrote Darren Herman, Chief Digital Media Officer at The Media Kitchen, in an email to Ad Age.
But that hasn't stopped a number of third parties -- including BuzzFeed -- from launching "native ad networks" in a bid to make this type of advertising scale across the web. These networks work by embedding content teases -- or in some cases, the content itself -- on participating publishers' websites, with a click leading to the sponsored content itself. There are a number of networks in the native game already, but here six leaders in the space, with a little bit of detail on how each works:
Founded in 2008 -- before "native advertising" was even a term -- Sharethrough now claims to reach 182 million unique visitors each month. That, according to comScore, makes Sharethrough the largest native advertising platform of all. Using Sharethrough, advertisers can serve videos and content previews that fit the look and feel of each participating publisher's site. The company recently expanded its offering to mobile, with PEOPLE, Serious Eats and Forbes signed on at launch.