In recent years, online display advertising click-through rates have been on the decline, hovering around .04%, leaving marketers, agencies and brand managers struggling to find new ways to reach and engage consumers. More and more, “native” ad content has been popping up all over the web to fill the void left by abysmal click-through rates.

Native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed. In some cases you don’t even notice it – and that’s the point. Whereas display advertising is meant to draw the users attention and get them to click on a link or banner, native advertising is a form of content-based marketing that uses sponsored posts, user-generated media, etc. to create a viral effect with viewers in order to gain trust, build clout and increase brand awareness.

This method of serving ads is particularly advantageous when you consider the amount of clutter brands have to cut through to get their message across in more traditional ad setups. Native ads allow advertisers to reach users where they are, whether it be on a specific media site or blog, or even right on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr feeds. Rather than attempting to entice with flashy graphics or discount sales, native ads engage audiences around a product or service by presenting it in a greater context that resonates with the user.

Brands like Lexus have embraced native ads by developing seamless content for Instagram that contextualizes their brand identity in a format that resonates with a targeted audience. Their #LexusLens campaign documents a road trip taken in a Lexus in the same way your friend might post Instagram pictures from their recent camping trip.

Even Facebook has invested in native ads, creating promotional content that is displayed within their own platform.

Native ads can also be an excellent way to generate user engagement. Take Levi’s, whose use of Instagram hashtags to discover and feature user content yields beautiful ‘ads’ and excellent engagement levels with a huge ROI.

Seamless integration is the primary concern with native advertising. It’s all-too-easy to go overboard and wind up with content that reads as disingenuous, which may ultimately undermine your goals. With such a promising advertising method that walks a fine line between engaging, viral and “spammy”, work with an agency to develop a campaign that leaves a positive association with users.

Agencies like AP42 have developed strategic processes to help clients strike the sweet spot between engaging, viral and spammy. It allows companies to identify unique online value propositions and express them across multiple digital spaces through responsive, creative design. Check out some of our examples below.