Native advertising is any form of advertising that matches the look of the media where it appears. It’s helpful content that mimics the source format and, to use a completely technical term, isn’t overly ad-y. Usually, you’ll find native ads online, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And, in fact, some might argue that native ads have been around since the invention of superglue.
Here’s a look at the evolution of native advertising.
1920s: The birth of native advertising (maybe)
Experts disagree about when native advertising became a thing, but some cite the brand-sponsored radio content of the 1920s and 1930s as a decent harbinger for native to come. The owner of Everready Batteries, National Carbon Company, produced and sponsored a variety show called The Everready Hour which entertained—and sold batteries—at the same time. The trend continued into the 1930s with soap operas sponsored by soap manufacturer Procter & Gamble—hence the clever genre name.
1951: The other birth of native advertising
Others believe true native advertising emerged in the 50s, when Hallmark card company launched its Hall of Fame series of TV specials featuring quality content sponsored solely by Hallmark. As our friend Wikipedia says, “many experts do consider the Hallmark Hall of Fame…as among the earliest instances of the technique.” The distinction may be the type of content: helpful/educational versus purely entertaining.
2000s: Fast-forward to content marketing
Advertising went neon with the rise of TV commercial breaks, full-page/full-color ads in your favorite newspapers and magazines, and full-screen takeovers of that web article you were enjoying until it was covered up. For a long time, advertising shouted at you for your dollars. Then we all took a step back, relaxed and started using our quiet voices called content marketing.
In 2013, Forbes started an official sponsored content program—something adopted by most news websites today. Now, when you visit a site, it’s hard to distinguish whether you’re reading content written by staff or contributors, otherwise known as advertisers. For that reason, native advertising has evolved to a place where ad content really must cater to the user experience and provide value, not merely tout products or services.
In the social media space, native advertising means those sponsored updates or promoted tweets, pins, stories or posts you see on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest and the gang. (We’ll call them all “posts” for simplicity.) Promoted posts appear in users’ feeds just like posts about their friends’ cats, with small notes about who sponsored the content. And the content isn’t just text anymore, it’s everything from interactive infographics to longer-form videos to inspiring photo streams on Instagram.
No matter when you think native advertising launched, it’ll be exciting to see where it’s headed from here.