What’s the Difference Between Sponsored Content and Native Advertising?


To some, the differences between native advertising and sponsored content might seem subtle. But to us, the differences are stark, especially when comparing native advertising to the sponsored editorial content we create and distribute at StatePoint Media.

While both have a place in your marketing mix, they serve different purposes. And it’s important to understand what each is and what it does best before adding it to your strategy.

Put simply, one is meant to convince, while the other exists primarily to inform.

Native Advertising

The key word here is advertising. Above all, a native ad is still an ad, meant primarily to market a product or service and to convince the reader or user to purchase it.

According to the Native Advertising Institute, native advertising is paid media where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of media on which it appears. In other words, the ad is supposed to look like it belongs, so that it doesn’t ruin the user’s experience with the publication they are viewing. Native advertising is a directly paid opportunity and – above all – it’s an ad meant to convince, and promotion comes first.

There are different types of native advertising, for example:

• A post-like ad on Facebook that appears in the newsfeed and looks similar to the article your friend recently shared.

• A Pay Per Click that shows up in Google Search results, formatted to look like the organic results listed beneath it.

• A “related article” posted by Outbrain or Taboola that spotlights a headline and photo that look like a story on the media outlet website you are perusing, that actually links not to a story but to an advertiser’s traditional marketing material on its own website.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored editorial content, meanwhile, is a piece of content placed in a publication or on a media website with the intent to inform, entertain or influence public perception.

For example, at StatePoint we rely on our clients as experts at what they do. After all, who knows more about a particular market than the companies that make the products and services for that market? We leverage our clients’ expertise to create content that provides consumers with tangible information of value – e.g. tips, how-tos, etc.

Done right, such content provides a great opportunity to generate good will for your company, establish your expertise, teach your audience about your product in an organic way, and otherwise positively influence perceptions and behavior.

Similar to native advertising, sponsored editorial content typically looks like the other editorial content around it in a print publication or on a media website. If you are reading a publication, good sponsored content should appear like any other feature story you would want to read. Most importantly, it should never read like an advertisement, press release or marketing copy. And though you can include your company or product name in the content, it’s crucial not to be overly-promotional, in keeping with the mission of informing the audience, not selling to it.

And as we previously detailed in an earlier blog post, sponsored editorial content can even help you garner earned media and social media results.

In the end, native advertising may be better for quick action (for example, making a post go viral), while sponsored content is a better option to establish your brand as a credible subject expert and to provide useful information to your target audience.

Both can be valuable tools in a marketing or public relations strategy, so long as they are used correctly and your goals are clear when you get started.