What is the difference between programmatic and native advertising?

5 minute read
What is the difference between programmatic and native advertising?

Jargon is often a part of the advertising world. But when it comes to where you’re spending your money, you should at least understand the basics.

About 47 percent of small business owners handle all their marketing themselves, which only underscores the need to better understand what’s possible.

It’s especially easy to confuse programmatic and native advertising, which are just two methods of digital marketing. But knowing the difference between the two will help you decide whether either is worth your advertising budget.

What is programmatic advertising?

The simplest way to explain programmatic advertising (at least in its presentation) is to say that it’s like the digital ads you see (whether in banner or sidebar form) on websites that you visit, video ads that play before the streaming video you want to watch and so on. 

In other words, they are likely what you already think of when you think of digital ads.

However, there’s a bit more going on in programmatic advertising, which really is referring to the ad-buying process through algorithm-based technology that determines the most accurate ad placement in the fastest time and at the best price.

The programmatic part is the real-time automation behind that ad placement, no matter what the medium (image, video, audio, etc). The algorithm is complex yet extremely effective for instant, automated ad bidding.

What is native advertising? 

While programmatic advertising reflects the traditional look and feel of digital ads you would come to expect (no matter what automation is happening behind the scenes to determine placement), native advertising is all about not looking like an ad at all.

In other words, native advertising is intended to blend into the design of the webpage it’s located on, and it has an editorial look and feel.

For example, you could be on a content publishing website looking through various pieces of content and see an article about tips for winter driving. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the article is sponsored by a local tire shop. If the native advertising is done well, the article is truly about those winter driving tips, not the tire shop. We say “done well” because not all native advertising features engaging content on a topic relevant to a targeted audience. But it is a best practice to go with something like winter driving tips (per our example) rather than “10 reasons you should buy new tires with us.”

Native advertising isn’t just an article on a website. You can find examples of different approaches across social media. This includes sponsored posts that are intended to look and feel like the content you’d expect to see (whether there’s an influencer involved or not).

Again, the goal is to not look or feel like an ad, no matter what the medium.

Key differences


When thinking about programmatic and native advertising (and which is right for you), it’s important to consider your goals.

Programmatic advertising involves the more traditional advertising assets you would expect to have to create: a video commercial, a banner ad and so on. However, the process of determining placement for the best ROI is automated. 

So, if you have a specific product you want to specifically promote, for example, programmatic is a way to go.

Native advertising, on the other hand, is about more of the long run and big picture when it comes to branding and establishing your business as a thought leader in your industry, the one potential customers should think of and turn to when appropriate.

For example, the tire shop in the earlier example has a native advertising article about winter driving tips. Because it’s not a traditional ad and is content the tire shop’s target audience would be interested in as the season changes, it is more likely to generate more traffic and engagement than a traditional ad. This is a more long-term approach that can have significant ROI over time. It’s about the branding.

What you choose all depends on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve in any given marketing campaign.

Impact of ad blockers

Native advertising partly came about as an alternative advertising approach in reaction to growing ad-blocker use in browsers. What good is an ad if it’s blocked from being shown?

Because of its editorial approach, ad blockers do not impact native advertising. It’s intended to battle ad fatigue where the advertising noise on any platform can be intense. Native ads don’t disrupt the user.


Programmatic advertising can have a very far reach depending on the scope of your campaign, and the real-time automation of ad placement for the best ROI.

While native advertising can boast higher engagement rates, it’s easily possible for this more engaged audience is a smaller audience than who you can reach via programmatic.

It really depends on your goal.

Any similarities?

Advanced audience targeting

Both programmatic and native advertising involve advanced audience targeting opportunities. 

Audience targeting matters because while any business owner can say that every marketing campaign should target “everyone,” that’s not reality. An effective message must be specific. In other words, the more broad the message (and the targeted audience), the less effective you’ll be.

On the flip side, customizing your angle and message to a specific group based on any number of factors (age, gender, income, hobbies and so on), has a bigger chance of connecting to the people you really want to convert into customers for your business.

Can easily complement each other

The two advertising methods can also work together. Per our earlier example with the tire shop, you could have read that winter driving tips article. Then, when browsing later, an ad for that tire shop can appear promoting a discount on new winter tires.

There is an establishment of expertise. Then, they can follow up with an offer they’re hoping is too irresistible to ignore.

Ultimately, digital advertising can look very different depending on your goals and the type of business you are.

Need assistance with your digital marketing? You’d be impressed with what DailyStory can do for you. Schedule your free demo with us today.

In the meantime, check out our Digital Marketing 101 Beginner’s Guide and see if you’re making these 11 common digital marketing mistakes.

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