People like their information in easy-to-digest numerical chunks, much like the highly criticized but ultimately loved listicles. Though some people think that listicles are lazy or an insult to true journalism, the reality is that people prefer them to large blocks of text. Advertisers must give people what they want, making listicle-style content a popular format for native ads.

Editorial vs Advertorial

Native advertising has been around for a while, but there seems to be growing confusion regarding where the editorial and advertorial lines stop and start.

Dylon, a UK-based fabric dye manufacturer, published a sponsored listicle on Buzzfeed’s UK website earlier in the year. The article “14 Laundry Fails We’ve All Experienced” was very much like the other articles on Buzzfeed: short sentences listed out in numerical order, with funny images accompanying each one.

At the end, however, was a mention of the Dylon Colour Catcher. Because Buzzfeed wasn’t upfront from the start about Dylon’s sponsorship, they received some pretty harsh criticisms from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Specifically, the ASA criticized them for not being upfront about the intent of the content until readers had already engaged with it.

Deceptive Advertising

Buzzfeed is not the only publisher to blur its lines between editorial and advertorial content. There’s been plenty more instances throughout time, and that’s why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cracked down on deceptive advertising back in 2013.

Unless you like to stir up drama, we’re assuming that you don’t want to find yourself in the same type of trouble. But with the line between acceptable content and deceptive content being so thin, it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed the line.

To help clear up some of the confusion, we’ve listed the different types of native ads and the guidelines for each of them. Some have clear, stern rules, while others are more lenient. When in doubt, we recommend clarifying that the ad is “sponsored.” This way, you reduce the risk that your ad will be banned.

Types of Native Ads

Let’s take a look at the main native ad types that you should be familiar with.

In-Feed Units

In-feed units are advertisements that appear to be a natural part of a publisher’s feed. Aside from a subtle indication, most readers won’t even notice that the sponsored content is different from the rest.

In-feed units are generally editorial in nature and vary in appearance based on which publication they are posted in. In order to maintain compliance with industry guidelines, the publisher must indicate sponsorship. It might say something at the top of the post such as “sponsor content.”  

Recommendation Units

Recommendation units appear based on what the user is searching for or reading about. The purpose of these ads is to provide readers with related material that can help in their research process.

Typically, recommendation units are seen in the “Around the Web” sections at the bottom of articles on popular websites. They usually do a pretty good job of looking appealing, mostly because they include an interesting photo and a catchy title.

These ads aren’t required to label themselves as “sponsored,” but there’s also no reason to hide the sponsor. As a matter of fact, most successful ones don’t.

Promoted Listings

Next on our list is promoted listings, which are quite similar to recommendation units because the ads shown are based on what the user was searching for. Yet rather than featuring editorial content, promoted listings showcase specific products.

For example, if you’re searching for speakers on Amazon, further down the page are sponsored products related to the item. Promoted listings are probably the strictest of the bunch, so it’s necessary that they are marked as advertisements.

In-Ad with Native Elements

These ads are similar to traditional banner ads and can be found next to related content. Since they remain separate from the rest of the content, the rules aren’t as clear when it comes to how they should appear. To avoid being banned, advertisers should post their brand name somewhere on the ad.

Paid Search Units

Not everyone agrees that paid search units are true native ads, but we figured we’d add them to the list because the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) considers them to be. Paid search units are the sponsored listings that pop up in the search engine results. The search engines automatically label these ads as “sponsored results,” so advertisers don’t have to worry about violating the rules.


Native advertising isn’t a tactic that you need to shy away from because it does have it’s benefits and it can be useful. But it’s very important that you are familiar with the guidelines you should be following. Not only can your ads be banned if you’re found out of compliance, but also you could lose the trust of consumers and the privilege to post on certain platforms.

Bottom line: Before you pay for native advertising, make sure you’re in line with the rules and regulations.