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Is Native Advertising Ethical?

An increasingly popular form of advertising that has the prospect of influencing consumer behaviour more than traditional advertising.

Companies wanting to conduct a native ad campaign must know the various types of native advertisements and the ethical issues involved.

What is Native Advertising?

Native Advertising Definition - Advertising 101 - Advant Technology
Native Advertising Definition – Advertising 101 – Advant Technology

Content by brands that looks and feels like the regular news we read on the web. It typically appears on news publishers as a form of marketing where ads are paid for by an advertiser.
If advertising is content that looks and feels like other content, then perhaps the average user cannot distinguish it as an advertisement; this is a problem. Therefore, this is potentially unethical. We will address this in more detail but first, let’s get to the basics, including why advertisers use native advertising.

Advertising industry definitions

The Native Advertising Institute define it as:

paid advertising where the ad matches the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which it appears.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau IAB, another trusted source on online advertising, has a definition that can be found here.

Is Native Advertising Ethical - Advertising 101 - Advant Technology
Is Native Advertising Ethical – Advertising 101 – Advant Technology

Where can you buy native placements?

Ads can be bought from publishers directly or via a programmatic auction.

The Purpose of Native Ads

To promote awareness and drive sales for performance campaigns, the effects on consumer behaviour go beyond this.

Native advertising formats also seek to prevent users from turning to adblocking software for relief from irrelevant or obnoxious ads.

The Benefits

Benefits of Native Advertising - Are Native Ads Ethical - Advertising 101 - Advant Technology
Benefits of Native Advertising – Are Native Ads Ethical – Advertising 101 – Advant Technology

They are designed to be more engaging than other forms of marketing. They may result in greater levels of brand awareness and engagement. Still, it’s essential advertisers recognise content should be clearly labelled.

There are many reasons for the increasing popularity:

  • It is efficient at targeting users who are likely to be interested in the advertised product or service. It can provide an effective and less jarring way to persuade consumers of a product or service benefit.
  • There is less motivation for the public to skip or block native ads than more invasive and forced ads. Forced ads can be deemed annoying, such as pre-roll video advertising.
  • They are designed to be less intrusive than other digital advertisements because they attempt to blend in with the surroundings in which they appear. As a result, users may find them less frustrating and more relevant than other forms of digital advertising.
  • They enable greater consumer choice and transparency, native advertising may help to build trust.
    Now, let’s dive into ethics which is the crux of this content.

Examples of native ads - Native Advertising Example - Advant Technology – Native Advertising Example – Advant Technology

Ethical native advertising

Ensuring audiences are aware that native ads exist is an integral part of protecting trust, transparency and honesty. This is especially true when advertising on journalistic sites such as news publishers.

Web users need to be informed and understand the difference between paid-for content and impartial recommendations or opinions, so a clear label is critical if you’re a publisher.

There are also concerns about ‘advertorials’—ads that masquerade as independent articles.

While such ads may be labelled as advertising, they are designed to look like legitimate content; thus, a conflict of interest is at play. Advertorials are also sometimes called branded content.

So, is native advertising ethical?

That depends, and our answer to that is, yes, as long as they conform to the necessary regulations ensuring it is clearly labelled.

The advertising industry needs to be held accountable. It must ensure that all the stakeholders within the supply chain of the delivery of native ads are doing their bit. Those stakeholders include.

1. The Advertiser
2. The tech platforms include SSPs, DSPs and exchanges.
The publishers This lack of transparency is a primary source of frustration, with users often labelling native ads as ‘deceptive’.

Marketers that seek to advertise their products through native should ensure they are transparent about their affiliations.

Types of native advertising / native ad units

  • Paid Search Unit
    These types of placements/units are search results. They are commonly highlighted in different colours. They are positioned at the top of the page before other search results on search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing.
  • In-Feed Unit
    These advertisements appear in the middle of social media or editorial content on platforms such as BuzzFeed and Facebook.
  • In-ad with Native Element Units
    These advertisements contain content meant to look like the editorial content around it.
  • Promoted Listings
    These advertisements are product listings that might appear on search pages and shopping websites. They are promoted by sellers such as Google or Amazon.

Ethical questions stakeholders should ask themselves

  • Transparency and honesty – Is it clear to the consumer?
  • Are labels easily visible?
  • Is it possible for consumers to differentiate between an advertisement and other content?
  • Editorial independence – Does the website or social media platform publishing native ads operate independently from advertisers?
  • Interference – Are marketers seeking to interfere with consumers’ website use?

The Future of Ethical Ads

While native advertising has been successful in the short term, it may be necessary for further improvements in transparency and ethical standards to remain effective long term.

Marketers should continue to work collaboratively with news websites and the ad-tech industry to promote accurate and ethical native advertising standards.


In summary, native advertising can be a powerful tool in the hands of marketers who are transparent and ethical. It is crucial to consider how your customers will react to it before using this form of marketing strategy for your business.

Suppose you need help planning an ethical campaign? Our international media experts can help strategise the best approach to ensuring trust and safety for your digital advertising campaigns.

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