Native Ads vs. Display Ads and When to Use Each

graphics showing an example of a native ad and a display ad, to illustrate Native Ads vs. Display Ads

Since we launched StackAdapt, native advertising has gone from a shiny new advertising strategy to a common channel in media plans. While most marketers have embraced the concept of native advertising, very few see it for what it actually is—a reliable standard for communicating your brand’s message online. Let’s take a look at the role of native ads vs. display ads and when to use each.

Native Ads vs. Display Ads

It helps to think of native ads vs. display ads as “new school vs. old school.” Display ads are sort of the “old guard” of the internet that’s been around for ages. Most of us know these as banner ads. 

These ads were usually brightly-coloured, contained independent branding consistent with the company displayed, and existed in stark contrast to the website they were served on. While they used to be a primary marketing medium, they now tend to be used as part of a larger multi-channel strategy. 

Enter what was once the “new kid on the block”–native advertising. Although new channels like connected TV (CTV) and programmatic audio have since arrived, native is still viewed as a contender to display. What makes native ads effective is the fact that they are intentionally designed to blend seamlessly with the platform where they’re served. Instagram ads look like Instagram posts; Facebook ads look like Facebook posts; TikTok ads look like TikTok videos, and so on.

Here’s a quick comparison of the major ways native and display advertising differ in addition to their look and feel:

Native AdsDisplay Ads
Ads are static with images and text.Display ads include images, text, and can be interactive.
Recommended, or branded content.Ads vary in shape and size to fit in different locations on a web page.
Ads blend seamlessly into site content, matching the look, form, and feel of the media format that they appear in.Ads stand out, and it’s clear they are promoting something.
Great solution for educating your audience by conveying information and answers that they might be looking for.Great solution for raising awareness of a brand, product, or service.

Many advertisers opt for native vs. display ads to take advantage of the benefits of native ads. However, display ads do still have their place. Knowing when and how to use each format is a critical part of your overall marketing strategy, because together, these formats can drive strong performance. 

When Should You Use Display Advertising 

Display advertising is a great channel if you want to increase your campaign reach. You can measure viewability, and the banners can be interactive to stand out. Here’s a few scenarios where display advertising is effective:

Low Brand Awareness

If your brand or your client’s brands are currently struggling with brand awareness and are looking to increase visibility, display ads may be just the thing. You’ll be able to get your ad in front of a large audience, and the bold, contrasting nature of the ads will give a strong first impression with target customers.

Visual Marketing Message

Products that are highly visual, like ebooks, infographics, and coupons, can benefit from an effective display ad campaign. Display ads also work well with consumer products that don’t require much additional storytelling.

Targeting a Niche Audience

If the product or service you’re marketing serves a much smaller target audience, display ads can be a perfect solution. Providers of these ads will usually let you segment your audience by interest, which can lower costs and ensure your brand or your clients brand gets in front of your ideal customers.


If users have already interacted with you or your clients’ brand in some way, display ads can be a great tool as part of your overall retargeting strategy. Examples would be retargeting an online shopper with an abandoned cart or showing a display ad for a paid eBook to a user who already read one of your free blog posts.

In general, the best way to use display ads is to leverage bold images, colours, and interactive elements to grab a user’s attention quickly, and get them to click.

If your brand or your clients’ brand and messaging can be conveyed quickly and needs extra visibility, you may want to work with display vs. native ads.

When Should You Use Native Advertising 

You should use native advertising if your goal is to have a user perform a certain action after clicking on an ad. For example, read a piece of content on your blog, sign up, or make a purchase.

Here’s a few more specific scenarios when programmatic native will come in handy:

Advertising on a Tight Budget

When you look at display vs. native ads, native advertising is much more cost-efficient since the click-through rate (CTR) is likely higher. Since ads are typically purchased on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis, the higher click-through rates can drive down your cost per click (CPC). With conversion rates held equal, the cost-per-action, whether it’s getting the user to spend time on the content or to complete a form, will also be lower.

Easier Campaign Attribution and Accountability

Campaign performance tracking and accountability are made a lot easier with native ads because conversions are usually (and are recommended to be) measured only after the click.

Take a common setup that our clients run:

  1. Target a user with a native ad.
  2. Drive them to blog content.
  3. Retarget the individual with a native ad driving them to a landing page or homepage to complete the conversion.

Native’s focus on post-impression conversions provides more hard evidence of performance and effectiveness than a traditional display advertising campaign. Since native reporting and tracking revolves around the post-click experience, it’s easier to produce concrete results for your clients.

Amplify Brand Content

Search engine optimization is difficult because it takes a long time for content to surface. Social platforms increasingly deprioritize posts from fan pages, making it very difficult to get reach on social platforms. As a result, native advertising emerged largely to address the need to amplify brand content on demand.

Move Your Campaigns Beyond Content

While content marketing is a powerful tool for any digital strategy, it’s very easy to get “tunnel vision” and see content as the only way. But effective marketing campaigns need to be as individual as our clients themselves.

Start With the End Goal in Mind

If you’re considering whether to use native ads vs. display ads for a given campaign, ask yourself about your main goals:

Use Display Ads if your goal is:Use Native Ads if your goal is:
ImpressionsClicks or clickthrough rates
Unique reachSite visitors or content reads
Brand awarenessSignups, conversions, or sales

The way customers interact with your clients’ brands is evolving every day. And, with the evolution of focus on the customer journey, it helps to employ as many effective ad delivery platforms as possible. We’re not saying just “throw anything against the wall and see what sticks,” but you can never predict when your target customer will make their buying decision. 

Ultimately, both ad formats serve as valuable tools to complement your overall marketing strategy and should be used as part of a larger native, video, connected TV (CTV), audio, and display campaign to maximize marketing performance.

Partnering with StackAdapt puts innovative tools and years of marketing expertise to work for your brand, your agency and clients. Leverage our streamlined campaign management tools to manage all aspects of a well-rounded campaign from one easy-to-use dashboard. We can also increase the cost-effectiveness of your client campaigns thanks to our innovative programmatic buying AI software. We can even help you if you’re stumped on creative with the StackAdapt Creative Studio.

Want to run exceptional programmatic campaigns? Request a demo to learn more about StackAdapt.

Native vs. Display Advertising FAQ

While many things separate native ads vs. display ads, the biggest difference is their look and feel. Display ads are designed to look like banners that stand out. Their colour, placement, and branding contrast the website they’re delivered on and are meant to “pop out” at the user.

Native, on the other hand, is designed to blend in seamlessly with a website’s content. When done right, users feel like they’re consuming content and not interacting with an ad at all.

Erin Hynes
Erin Hynes

Content Marketing Manager


Erin is a content marketer with experience crafting thought-provoking content that drives awareness and supports customer acquisition. She is also a travel writer and podcaster in the tourism space.