Since 2012, native advertising has steadily grown to become the dominant online advertising format. This became official in 2017 when native ad spend reached 60% of all display ad spending.
Native ads are everywhere, on search engines, social networks and – of course – discovery feed platforms on the open web, like Outbrain.
Here are our favorite native ads in 2019. Scroll down to see the best native ads of 2018, 2017 and 2016.
Best Native Ads Examples in 2019
1. No Need to Fly?
This ingenious travel campaign, promoted via paid ads on Facebook, takes native advertising to the next level, and got the advertiser a 24% boost in revenue. German Rail targeted potential customers with personalized ads showing how local destinations in Germany looked similar or even identical to exotic locations around the world. The images of the German and international locations were placed side by side, together with the travel cost for each, demonstrating how much cheaper it is to visit the German location by German Rail rather than flying to the international lookalike! All summed up with the campaign slogan: “No Need to Fly?” The campaign had incredible visuals, a smart premise, advanced personalization and targeting. No wonder it performed so well…
2. Spring Reboot
Home Depot – Apartment Therapy
This sponsored campaign by Home Depot, featured on the home design website Apartment Therapy, is just about the most fun you can have with native ads. It takes a cute visual of a home, and showcases videos and links to recommended products at Home Depot for each room of the house. This native ad example uses interactivity to turn home upgrade and Home Depot shopping into a fun, engaging experience.
3. Hotel Nutella
Is there any ad more ‘native’ than turning a product into a real life 3D hotel? Welcome to Hotel Nutella! The world’s favorite chocolate spread is opening a pop-up hotel complete with Nutella-inspired construction and interior design, and celebrity chefs cooking Nutella-infused meals for guests. The catch? The hotel will be open for one weekend only, and you have to enter a competition to have a chance at becoming a guest. Contestants must produce a 60-second original video showing how Nutella makes their morning special. What a great use of user-generated content. Plus, a chocolate hotel is the fantasy of many a consumer, so the campaign generated loads of earned media to help promote the competition and lead customers to the dedicated landing page.
4. Goodbye Gravity
A key part of native advertising is creating great content. That’s what keeps a brand relevant and interesting to its customers. Well, what could be better than Adidas partnering with the ISS (International Space Station) US National Lab to research and test products in microgravity. For example, Adidas sent soccer balls to the space station to test their behavior, such as spinning, in weightless environments. Another plan is to test improvements in footwear materials and design in space. This multi-year partnership will no doubt drive incredible research and never-before-uncovered knowledge. And it will also take the Adidas brand name to the stratosphere with native content like this video:
5. A New Way to See
The beauty of native advertising is the way the ad fits in seamlessly to the page on which it appears, so it doesn’t seem like an ad. The best native ads do this, but they also stand out at the same time. Brilliant is a learning platform with a mission to inspire people to achieve their dreams in the STEM fields. Their native ads campaign, which appeared in the Guardian among other places, featured eye-catching math riddles with colorful moving images that were too tempting not to click.
6. Beauty Unaltered
When a chain store recruits leading brands to drive social change, native is the way to do it. CVS Pharmacy set a goal to reach full beauty transparency by the end of 2020, meaning all in store graphics will be natural, non-Photoshopped imagery, or marked to indicate that the image is airbrushed and not authentic. Good native advertising goes way beyond sponsored ads on websites. It is an entirely different approach to advertising that speaks to the consumer with content that matters to them. The instore campaign by CVS Pharmacy does just that, plus provides ample room to promote the campaign natively, with discount offers, charity contributions, and user-generated content like this Instagram post:
View this post on Instagram
Today I am so proud to be wearing this shirt showcasing the CVS Beauty Mark and working with @cvs_beauty on this initiative. A few weeks ago, I got to go to NYC and experience their big unveil showcasing how beautiful #BeautyUnaltered is. To me, this initiative is letting go of the idea of perfection and accepting every bit of who we are and being proud of it and not holding ourselves to impossible standards! This initiative shows a deeper understanding of what’s real and what’s not. It’s something I can get behind, can you? 100% of the proceeds of the shirt I’m wearing will go towards benefiting @girlsinc . You can get it on CVS.com <http://cvs.com/>, head over to my stories to learn more! #beautyunaltered #wcw #ad
When a series as beloved as Game of Thrones comes to an end, brands must find ways to leverage the worldwide buzz and become part of the conversation. Oreo did it this year in style, with the recreation of the famous Game of Thrones opening credits using 2,750 cookies. This is the essence of native advertising – an ad for a product that is less about the product itself, and more about bringing relevance and entertainment to the audience. And of course, it’s all about targeting the right people – Oreo increased its targeting by 20% towards males for the GOT campaign.
Best Native Ads: 2018
8. Taking the Dragon Challenge
We love Dragon Challenge native campaign by Land Rover, as it combines the best of everything in advertising – a great story, fabulous cinematography, and loads of suspense.
The ad shows the first ever attempt to scale the 999 stairs to Heaven’s Gate in China by car. This was accomplished by a professional Formula One driver in a specially fitted Range Rover SUV, featured in a nail-biting video by Land Rover.
This is not just an ad campaign; it’s a mini adventure movie. Promoted on social media, it uses a storytelling approach to broadcast the values of the Land Rover brand (excellence, daring, success), for an unforgettable native experience.
9. Laurel or Yanny?
Every year has at least one viral meme, and 2018 was no different. Remember the great “Laurel or Yanny” dispute, which kept the whole internet busy for a few days? VentureBeat chose to leverage the meme to promote its Transform conference on analytics and artificial intelligence.
How? The tech website used AI to test whether it was really “Laurel” or “Yanny”, and then promoted an article on how they did it. (Spoiler: Even AI is not really sure…)
The article included a CTA to register for the Transform conference, with a 30% discount promotion. This campaign shows the best of two worlds – viral meme and native ad – coming together to drive results.
10. Hyperloop Competition by SpaceX
Here’s a native ad that has it all. A great human story, futuristic hi-tech, and Elon Musk, all combined in a sleek, watchable video.
The ad was produced by Altran Engineering, supporters of a group of students competing in the 2018 Hyperloop Pod Competition run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
The video, “Hyperloop: designing the future of transport?”, follows the story of the students as they race to design the fastest ever pod that will change the future of transportation.
Promoted in the Industrial Tech section of the Financial Times, it’s a fun and inspiring tale of “Can they?” or “Can’t they”?
11. The Rise of the Superhuman
Native advertising works by providing relevant, interesting content for the reader, rather than pushing a particular product. It’s the difference between the hard sell, and the extremely soft sell.
Mercedes does it beautifully with a native campaign called “The rise of the superhuman”, which presents different technologies that are turning us ordinary folk into “superhumans”, like virtual reality and robotic suits.
This ties in seamlessly with the Intelligent Drive system, a new feature in the Mercedes E-class vehicle. Clean, smooth and cutting edge – these are the brand qualities of Mercedes, promoted so well by this native ad. Bravo!
12. Know Your “Girls” – Breast Cancer Awareness
Susan G Komen & Ad Council
When a great native ad is used for a great cause, it’s even better! Check out this campaign to promote breast cancer awareness and breast health among African American women in the US.
It’s called “Know Your Girls”, and it has a cheeky, friendly approach to appeal to the target audience via native ads on AOL.
Click on the ad, and you are taken to an informative, user-friendly website featuring health advice and information, personal stories and a host of resources about breast screening, risk factors and more.
It’s a perfect example of what happens when an important social issue meets native advertising best practices.
13. The Green River Project
The beauty of native content is that you can include just about everything, as long as it supports and enhances the story.
This example, by Eni, the oil and energy conglomerate, uses so many different types of engaging content – images, video, text, timelines, maps, audio, personal stories and graphics – all set in an inspiring storytelling format.
Promoted via native ads on CNN.com, the campaign focuses on a development program for farming and livestock in the Niger Delta, run by the Eni company. Called the Green River Project, it aims to enhance the livelihood of local communities.
The native content is expertly designed with a look and feel more suited to an environmental agency. It’s hard to tell that the campaign, in fact, belongs to an oil company.
This campaign is a good example of how powerful native can be when it comes to brand building and perception.
14. “The Great Rewrite” – Rethinking Innovation
If you want to know what great native content looks like, look no further than KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, and “The Great Rewrite” campaign, promoted on Forbes’ BrandVoice platform.
In the campaign, KPMG explores the question of how our world is being “rewritten” in a post-innovation age. The look and feel of the campaign is ultra modern, with a rich user experience loaded with content, including featured articles, videos and first-person perspectives.
Much like its title, this campaign is rewriting the native concept, taking the content experience to a whole new level of sophistication.
Best Native Ads: 2017
15. Match Your Music to Stranger Things Characters
Nielsen reported a whopping 15.8 million Americans had watched the first episode of Stranger Things by the third day of its release. There’s no denying the series has garnered an almost cult-like fan following.
Spotify was quick to capitalize on its recent release, matching users of its platform to characters on the show, based on their listening habits. Even guests of the platform can select five jams to submit for their results.
When two powerhouse content creators combine, amiright?
16. Serena Williams’ Career Journey
Gatorade served up the most memorable gamification experience of the year paying homage to one of the most talented athletes of our time, Serena Williams.
Users can attempt to win the match point of every one of her 22 major victories with the simple click of their mouse — no download necessary and without a glitch.
The game resembled some of Nintendo’s earliest crowd pleasers. This one is definitely in the running for the gold in “Best use of native advertising.”
17. Remembering Ellis Island
In partnership with The New York Times, Airbnb reflects on the history of travel and hospitality. The interactive experience goes back in time to reference New York’s own Ellis Island. The heart-warming and educational story details what it was like to migrate to America back in the day.
Navigate through four chapters (some with sound effects) for personal stories from Airbnb hosts, historical facts, old photos, and documents for a journey back in time.
Then, book your next great adventure.
18. Driving Progress
Not what you would expect from a legacy car brand on game day… this past Super Bowl, Audi used its 60-second ad spot to advocate for pay equality, a social issue far removed from our rearview mirrors.
Despite the brand’s association with older, more traditional consumers, Audi has been reporting younger demographics since back in 2014. About 50 percent of its sales are to Gen X and Gen Y consumers.
Audi is clearly looking toward the future. And these days, a little bit of activism, especially during game time, can make a big difference among its next generation of buyers.
19. Getting Personal with Marcus
The finance sector has experienced massive shifts in consumer behavior with the emergence of new technology like mobile apps. And like most industries, if brands don’t bend to the consumer’s needs, they will seek greener pastures.
That’s why one of the oldest institutions, Goldman Sachs, has been working to revamp its image with the introduction of its new online lending company, Marcus.
A quick visit to Marcus.com combines the engaging elements of an infographic with interactive elements. There’s even a powerful tool in the form of a loan calculator.
While the financial services industry may never viewed as “sexy,” Goldman Sachs certainly makes up for it with utility.
20. Mosaic Maker Gets Personal
Lego enthusiasts, much like the parts in their kits, come in various shapes and sizes — whether it is a parent buying their toddler beloved building blocks or an adult looking for the next intricate model to carefully piece together.
In an effort to represent its diverse set of superfans, the toy maker created an instant photo booth and Lego vending machine within its London location for visitors to recreate their own headshot of out bricks.
Just think of all the user-generated content!
Best Native Ads: 2016
21. Kids’ Imaginations’ Rules
Homegate & 20 Minuten
Who wouldn’t want a black hole in their house? Or to live in a giant strawberry? And don’t tell Princess Llaria she can’t have smiling shrubbery and transforming stars in her castle. Swiss real estate company Homegate pulled off the ultra meta campaign by integrating its brand into the vibrant imaginations of children using Oculus Rift technology. To create native advertising for Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten, Homegate – in conjunction with the Bandara agency and film production company Frame Engine – asked children to draw their dream houses. The three most creative renderings were brought to life in virtual reality. The expression on the kids’ faces are priceless, but they’ll probably never be satisfied with having their drawings taped to the refrigerator door again.
22. “The Message” Podcast
Here at Outbrain, we love our podcasts, so no surprise that this Webby-winner would also be one of our top picks. The 8-part series was co-produced by GE (with their agency BBDO) who also worked in collaboration with Panoply Media (Slate’s podcast network). The #1 podcast on iTunes ended up being a hit, garnering a million-plus listeners. GE came up with the original concept that blends sci-fi and real life, following the main protagonist as she attempts to decode a 70-year-old message from outer space in her job at an encryption think tank. Additional online content allows viewers to dig deeper into the show. This was a new medium for GE and following the success of MailChimp’s sponsorship of “Serial,” it looks like the podcast is becoming another go-to touchpoint for brands to reach their audiences.
23. SXSW Comedy Bang Bang Podcast
“Don’t like my underwear? Why don’t you choke on it.” Mack Weldon, the New York-based men’s underwear brand, visited the Comedy Bang Bang Podcast this year in SXSW, and pulled off an unlikely live native advertising campaign offering genuine hilarity that resonated throughout communal online spaces like Reddit. As a result, Mack Weldon’s sales doubled. In the podcast, comedian Paul F. Tompkins plays a microbe-loathing Mack Weldon executive who, along with the podcast’s hosts, critiques the physique, mannerisms – and, yes, the Mack Weldon underwear, T-shirt, and socks – being showcased by a male model. Though there was a clear native advertising strategy behind this campaign, Mack Weldon scored big because it had faith in the talent of the participants and the scary but undeniable power of spontaneity to create unparalleled branded moments.
24. Online Scavenger Hunt
Bacardi & Goldroom
Exclusivity has deep roots in aspirational advertising, but Bacardi’s 2016 collaboration with BBDO and electronic music artist Goldroom, aka Josh Legg, infused the concept with a native twist by integrating the VIP treatment into the digital experience. To locate and claim 10 pairs of free tickets on Goldroom’s website, fans have to activate Google Chrome’s incognito mode – an option most use when they want their browsing histories to disappear – which launches a special landing page promoting a unique scavenger hunt. Fans who hack through the online clues receive backstage concert tickets and access to special tracks and an exclusive clip of Goldroom’s latest video.
25. Powerball Drumroll
New York Lottery
Though the year 2016 may forever be known as the year that our favorite artists, comics, and musicians passed away, it began as the year of the largest Powerball jackpot in U.S. history. To mark the occasion, the New York Lottery teamed up with McCann to give New Yorkers a continuous 12-hour live drum performance to celebrate their purchases of Powerball tickets. A simple idea, but fun and effective and perfectly suited – considering the cultural context and auditory and visual payoff of a 35-second video – for a YouTube campaign. For anyone who ever dreamed of being rich enough to be followed or preceded by a marching band as they went through their day, this – unless they actually won the lottery – was as close as they’d ever get.
That’s all, folks
Once again, it’s been a great year for native advertising. 2019 was the year that native video really started to flex its muscles. Also this year, we’ve started to see a meteoric rise in programmatic native advertising.
Even so, there’s one thing at the center of every great native ad – a great story. The examples above are just a taste of the native ads we enjoyed in the past few years. What will the new year bring for native advertising? Stay tuned!