Native Ad Formats: A Quick Fool-Proof Guide (Plus Examples)

Confused about the different native ad formats? You're not alone. Even the experts get it wrong. This article reveals the only formats you need to know. Plus examples.
native formats

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Native ad formats are kind of like soda. Some call it soda, others pop and some simply say Coke.

Isn’t it all the same thing? Right… maybe.

The advertising industry tends to have different interpretations when it comes to native ad formats. Our goal with this article is to eliminate the confusion, or at least point you closer to the truth.

Native Or Native-Like

Part of the confusion comes from categorizing native-like formats as native formats.

For instance, a search ad can be labeled as a native-like format because it looks similar to the content that surrounds it on the search results.

However, it is not considered a native format, according to industry standards.

Not even the top native ad networks allow you to create search ads on Google, for example. So perhaps thinking about the technology or platform that assists in the creation of the ad is a good place to start for seeing things more clearly.

That would make an ad created on a network such as Outbrain or Taboola undoubtedly a native ad.

Formats Are Not Placements Except On Native

The other part of the confusion is created when the ad industry mixes ad formats and placements. As if they were the same thing. They’re more like water and oil than Coke and Pepsi.

Sometimes, as advertisers, we have to go back to school. Let’s see if the Cambridge Dictionary can point us in the right direction:


  • the way in which something is shown or arranged

Format refers to the type of advertising. A banner ad is a format.


  • the position of something, or the act of putting something in a particular position

Placement is where the ad appears. A banner ad (format) has many different placements. It might show up on the masthead, in line with the content, sidebar, or footer.

Content recommendation ads (purple) and banner ad (red) on CNN’s homepage

Coming back to native, when we say “this is a native video format”, it presents itself in many ways. It can show up on the content feed, in between the content, or in the widgets below the content.

So, with native, things seem to be reversed and that creates some confusion.

Native Ad Formats Explained

Let’s not make native advertising complicated.

There are a lot of confused folks out there, some experts even go as far as categorizing promoted listings as a native format.

My suggestion is that we shall guide ourselves by industry standards, even if they’re not 100% agreeable. These formats below are as per IAB’s latest native standards, which considers social feeds, for example, a native ad format.


When you think about the word “feed”, in digital advertising, the first thing that comes to mind is social media. Similarly, in-feed native ads show up on publisher’s sites.

These ads appear in line with the organic content on the page.

in feed native ad format
In-feed native ad on the Yahoo homepage

Native in-feed ads also show up in between the organic content of the publisher’s site and more often than not, on the publisher’s home page. Hence, with high viewability comes higher costs for the advertiser.

These are also called In-Content ads when displayed in between an article’s content.

With in-feed or in-content native, the competition isn’t the other advertiser but the content that surrounds the ad.

Content Recommendation Widgets

Recommendation ads are usually found at the bottom of the publisher’s content. This is the most common native ad format.

native recommendations format
Native recommendations after the comment section on MarketWatch powered by Dianomi

Recommendation ads are typically cheaper than in-feed, as they sit below the content and don’t have as high viewability.

The lower price is also justified by the fact that you’re competing with other advertisers in the same space. This makes native recommendations a tougher ad format to drive results from. You better know how to create ad headlines and ad creatives that stand out to your target audience.

Branded Content

This is a bit of a unique format that some advertisers might not be aware of. It’s shown in a similar way to the publisher’s content.

Some publishers call this format Sponsored Content, which might get confused with the recommendation widgets, also labeled Sponsored Content. The IAB defines this format as Branded/Native content.

Advertisers will typically work directly with the publisher to create branded content that satisfies both parties needs.

branded native ad format
Boehringer Ingelheim’s branded content ad in line with the article on Politico

Legally, it is required for publishers to disclose to consumers that this is a promoted content piece. This format takes a high level of collaboration between the publisher and the advertiser.

Collaboration isn’t the only thing to consider. Branded content is considered a premium format, so prices can get out of range for most advertisers.

A branded content piece can easily cost anywhere between $1,000 and $50,000 or more depending on the publisher and size of the campaign.

branded native content
Boehringer Ingelheim’s branded content article on Politico

Branded content is also one of the most time-consuming native formats to create.

On the flip side, it gives advertisers a unique opportunity to express their creativity and unlock new business growth with massive reach.

Epic brand content from Marriott Bonvoy on The Washington Post

Easy As 1,2,3

Remember the Three Little Pigs story? Of course, you do.

You probably already know this but as humans, we understand concepts better if they come in three. So perhaps that’s the sweet spot when it comes to understanding native ad formats.

From now on, until someone changes the format regulations, you know there are really only three native formats:

  1. In-Feed/In-Content
  2. Content Recommendation Widgets
  3. Branded Content

That’s it! Easy as 1,2,3.

Drop a yes in the comments below if you think this article made you more clear. Or no if you’re still confused… I don’t blame you.


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