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Comparing Native vs. Display Ads

Stephanie Cook

Lifecycle Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

Understanding the difference between native and display ads is like having a secret code to unlock successful consumer engagement and brand exposure. Advertising is the lifeblood of brand visibility, customer engagement, and revenue generation in today’s highly competitive market. By understanding the distinctive characteristics of native vs. display ads, you gain the insight needed to tailor campaigns effectively, aligning with the preferences and behaviors of target audiences. Now, let’s unravel exactly what sets these ad types apart.

What Are Native Ads?

Native ads are the chameleons of digital advertising, blending into the platform user experience on which they appear. Unlike traditional, more conspicuous ad formats, native ads are designed to harmonize with the surrounding content, appearing as organic elements rather than disruptive interruptions. These ads take on the look and feel of the editorial or visual style of the platform, camouflaging themselves within the natural flow of content. By mirroring the form and function of the host environment, native advertising creates a more cohesive and non-intrusive user experience. This subtlety is a key strength, as it allows brands to convey their messages in a way that feels native to the platform, fostering higher engagement and trust among users. 

What Are Display Ads?

Characterized by their graphical elements, such as images, animations, and interactive features, display ads aim to captivate attention and leave a lasting impression on the viewer. These ads are placed strategically on websites, apps, or social media platforms, leveraging eye-catching visuals to convey a brand’s message. The creative canvas for display advertising is expansive, allowing marketers to experiment with compelling visuals and innovative designs to grab the audience’s attention. While their approach may be more overt, the effectiveness of display ads vs. native ads lies in their ability to create immediate visual impact and drive brand awareness in an era where catching and retaining attention is a growing challenge.

Key Differences Between Native and Display Ads

  1. Contextual relevance: In terms of contextual relevance, native ads seamlessly integrate with the platform’s content, fostering a natural and uninterrupted user experience. These ads thrive on their ability to synthesize with the surrounding content, ensuring that their presence feels organic and un-intrusive. On the other hand, display ads, with their visually striking nature, may struggle to maintain contextual relevance. Their conspicuous appearance can potentially disrupt the flow of content on the platform, making them stand out more starkly and, in some cases, diminish their contextual alignment.

  2. User engagement: Regarding user engagement, native ads take the lead by leveraging their discrete nature. By blending into the platform, native ads cultivate an environment where trust is nurtured and interactions feel genuine. This discretion results in higher user engagement, as audiences are more likely to interact with content that integrates with their online activities. Conversely, display ads rely on the power of immediate visual impact to capture attention. While they excel at grabbing the viewer’s focus initially, sustaining user engagement over time can pose a challenge. 

  3. Adaptability: When it comes to adaptability, native ads showcase remarkable versatility. Their ability to assimilate into the specific aesthetics of each environment makes them inherently adaptable, allowing marketers to maintain a consistent and cohesive brand presence across diverse channels. On the flip side, display ads, with their visually impactful nature, require more customization to ensure they resonate effectively on different platforms. 

  4. Visual impact: Display ads often utilize eye-catching visuals, animations, and bold graphics that can quickly capture the audience’s attention. This visual appeal can be especially effective in conveying a brand message or promoting a product in a memorable way.

  5. Wider reach: Display ads can be strategically placed across various websites, apps, and social platforms, allowing for a broader reach compared to native ads that may be confined to specific content or platforms. This broader distribution can increase exposure to a diverse audience.

  6. Brand consistency: Display ads provide a consistent branding experience across different platforms. They allow for the integration of a brand’s visual elements, colors, and messaging in a standardized manner, reinforcing brand identity. This can benefit companies aiming to establish and maintain a cohesive brand image.

When to Use Native Ads

Native ads are particularly effective when subtlety and contextual relevance are essential. Leveraging native ads is ideal in content-rich environments, such as social media feeds or news articles, where seamlessly integrating promotional content with the surrounding material enhances the user experience. They shine in scenarios where brands aim to build trust gradually, as their hidden nature fosters a sense of authenticity. When aiming for a more organic and integrated brand presence that aligns with the aesthetics of the hosting platform, native advertising ensures that promotional messages resonate within the natural flow of the user’s online journey.

Successful native placements demand a nuanced approach that aligns with the unique user experience of the platform. Instead of a direct duplication, marketers should tailor their creative strategy for native formats, considering the platform’s context, user behavior, and the seamless integration native ads strive for. By adapting content to suit the native environment, markets can enhance engagement, build authenticity, and avoid the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all approach. This ensures the native ads resonate appropriately with audiences, in a way that feels natural. Elements of strong native ads include:

  1.  Compelling visuals and copy: Successful native ads contain eye-catching visuals that not only enhance the aesthetic appeal, but also contribute to a more immersive and memorable encounter for the audience. The ad should grab the audience's attention quickly and effectively communicate the message. High-quality images or videos, coupled with concise and persuasive language, contribute to the overall impact of the ad and encourage users to take the desired action, whether it's clicking a link, making a purchase, or engaging with the content.

  2. Calls-to-action: When launching native ad campaigns, it’s important to include well-crafted calls-to-action that guide viewers toward the desired response. Doing so fosters a sense of interaction and engagement.

  3. Seamless integration: A strong native ad seamlessly integrates with the platform or content it appears in, matching the surrounding content's look, feel, and tone. The ad should not disrupt the user experience, but rather blend in naturally, making it difficult for users to distinguish between the ad and the organic content.

When to Use Display Ads

Deploying display vs. native ads becomes particularly advantageous in scenarios where immediate visual impact is necessary for capturing audience attention. These ads are a strategic choice when a brand seeks to showcase visually compelling content, making them well-suited for product launches, promotions, or campaigns where a bold and eye-catching presentation is essential. Display ads are effective on high-traffic websites, as their vibrant graphics and animations can swiftly grab visitors’ attention. Events, sales, or time-sensitive offers benefit from the instantaneous allure of display ads, maximizing visibility within a short timeframe. 

How to Decide Between Native and Display Ads

When choosing between native ads vs. display ads, it’s vital to understand the nature of your target audience. If the goal is to build trust gradually and foster authentic interactions, native ads, with their unobtrusive integration into the user experience, are often the preferred choice. On the other hand, when an immediate visual impact is crucial, especially for promotions, product launches, or time-sensitive campaigns, display ads effectively capture attention swiftly. Platform context is another determinant — native ads seamlessly adapt to diverse platforms, while display ads may demand customization for visual consistency. The nature of the message and the desired level of user engagement also guide this decision-making process. 

The most efficient marketers utilize a harmonious blend of both formats, leveraging the strengths of each to create a well-rounded and effective digital advertising strategy tailored to specific marketing goals and audience dynamics. While native and display ads have distinct characteristics, combining them can lead to a more effective and impactful campaign, as marketers can address different stages of the customer journey. Native ads create awareness and foster engagement, while display ads effectively drive consideration and conversions. This dual approach ensures a more holistic and dynamic advertising strategy that caters to various audience preferences and behaviors. Moreover, utilizing both formats provides businesses with valuable data and insights. Analyzing the performance of native and display ads in tandem allows for a more thorough understanding of audience behavior and preferences. This data-driven approach enables marketers to refine strategies and optimize campaigns, by allocating resources effectively to maximize overall campaign performance.

The choice between display vs. native advertising can shape the trajectory of your brand’s online presence. As you navigate the intricacies of contextual relevance, user engagement, and adaptability, the question remains: how can you harness the full potential of these diverse ad formats? Check out AdRoll’s digital ads platform, where you can reach the right audience, with the right ad, at the right time with targeted campaigns across display, native, video, and mobile exchanges.

Display vs. Native Ads FAQ

What is a native ad example?

Native ads come in various formats tailored to specific platforms. For instance:

  • In-feed ads: These ads appear within a platform’s natural content feed, such as social media feeds or news articles. They often mimic the style and layout of surrounding content. Standard size metrics include images with dimensions like 1200x628 pixels for Facebook or 1080x1920 pixels for Instagram Stories.

  • Sponsored content: Native ads can be sponsored articles or promoted posts. On websites, these might have dimensions like 1200x800 pixels, resembling regular articles, but labeled as “sponsored” to indicate their promotional nature.

  • Recommendation widgets: These widgets suggest related content and can be found at the end of articles or web pages and suggest related content. Native ads within these widgets are often presented with images and headlines, with dimensions like 300x250 pixels.

The key is to adapt the native ad’s size, design, and structure to match those of the platform, maintaining a balance between promotional content and overall user experience.

What is a display ad example?

Display ad sizes and appearances vary depending on the platform and ad type. Different examples include:

  • Banner ads: Banner ads are one of the most common types of display ads. They typically appear at a web page’s top, bottom, or sides and come in various sizes. Banner ads often include a combination of text, images, and sometimes animations to attract attention.

  • Interstitial ads: Interstitial ads are full-screen ads that appear before the desired content, often during transitions between pages or while a mobile app is loading. These ads provide a visually immersive experience and effectively capture the user’s attention.

  • Rich media ads: Rich media ads are interactive and engaging display ads beyond static images. They can include elements like video, audio, animations, or interactive features, providing a more dynamic and immersive user experience. 

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