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Content Marketing vs. Native Advertising


The online marketing community is buzzing about native advertising thanks to a native advertising workshop hosted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a consumer warning issued by the FTC. In Australia, brands that mislead consumers through native advertising may face legal action in 2014.

Native advertising, also called sponsored content, advertorials, or infomercials, isn’t a new concept. Newspaper advertorials are a much older form of this practice, where advertising is dressed up to look like editorial content and placed in publications.

According to VentureBeat, native advertising can now take the form of Sponsored Stories on Facebook, Sponsored Tweets on Twitter, or sponsored articles on websites like or The Huffington Post. The FTC warns marketers that these types of placements should be clearly marked as sponsored content so consumers aren’t tricked into believing they’re the same as traditional editorial content.

But native advertising isn’t the same as content marketing (sometimes called brand journalism or branded content). One example of native advertising is the “sponsored emails” or “partner tips” sent out by Netted by the Webbys. The emails look similar to editorial emails, but they’re actually paid for by a sponsor.  An example of content marketing would be HSBC’s Global Connections website, which features in-depth articles about issues and strategies for global businesses. Rarely do the articles mention HSBC, but they help position the bank as an authority on international business.

Though different from the value added strategy of content marketing, native advertising is still a legitimate form of marketing. The main distinction is that content marketers are aiming to build long term trust, consistently providing value for readers without asking for anything in return, while most often the goal the native advertising is to have the reader purchase a product or service before obtaining this valuable content.

Here’s a look at some other key differences:


  • Native advertising: The content may appear to provide value, but that goal is secondary to selling a product or service. Often the advertorial may try to solve a problem that conveniently involves buying the brand’s product or service. However, the content of native advertising generally does not have inherent value without the reader buying a product or service.

  • Content marketing: Here, the goal is to build trust over the long term by providing relevant, useful information. Ultimately, the hope is that content marketing will help generate sales or sales leads but that’s part of a longer sales funnel. Sales are not expected solely as a result of one content marketing piece. Content marketing provides value to readers that’s independent of them buying a product or service. The content is valuable in itself.


  • Native advertising: Sometimes, native ads take a pushy and salesy tone. Or they may have a faux friendly tone to emulate the writing style of the publication.

  • Content marketing: Effective content marketing takes a knowledgeable, yet authentic tone that doesn’t try to pressure the reader to buy. Instead, it acknowledges the reader’s challenges or pain points and offers actionable tips or solutions. Even if those solutions don’t involve the brand’s product or service (in fact, it’s better if they don’t because then it feels more genuine and less self-interested), the goal is to engage with the reader and build rapport.


  • Native advertising: Nowadays, readers are wary of being marketed to and many can smell a sales pitch a mile away, so the benefits of native advertising can be fairly limited.

  • Content marketing: Content marketing done well builds trust with readers, helps create shareable content for blogs, social media feeds, email lists, and avoids some of the potential legal issues associated with native advertising because it doesn’t try to mislead.

Now that I’ve outlined some of the differences I’ve noticed between native ads and content marketing, I’d love to get your take on this topic. Leave a comment and let us know if you agree or disagree!

For more tips and strategies on effective content marketing, download Curata’s latest free ebook, Stop Egocentric Marketing.

Michael Gerard

Michael was CMO of Curata, responsible for Curata’s marketing strategy and all related activities. He has over 25 years of marketing and sales experience, having successfully launched and sustained three start-up ventures as well as having driven innovative customer creation strategies for large technology organizations such as IDC, Kenan Systems, Prospero (mZinga) and Millipore. Michael received his MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, as well as a BS in Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and an MS in Engineering from Northeastern University.

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