7 Must-Know Digital Advertising Terms Explained

So many buzzwords have sprouted in the digital advertising landscape, clarity can be hard to find. We’re stepping back to take a careful look at some terminology and explore the overlap between popular marketing terms.

A firmer grasp of ad terminology helps form a better idea of what is going on in a very dynamic industry, and helps you assess your advertising options.


Digital Advertising

Digital advertising refers to marketing displayed on a digital device. “Digital advertising technology exists on the Internet, on smart phone and handheld media devices, and even on automobiles and billboards,” says Chron, a top newspaper website.

Any form of digital media can provide a channel for an ad in a compatible format. Pop-up ads, any web-based ads, video ads, native ads, and even audio promotions on Internet radio fall under this umbrella.

Digital advertising accounts for 85% of online advertising in the US, says the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).


Display Advertising

Display ads look like advertisements. They appear just about anywhere in print and visual media. The term distinguishes them from classified ads, which are organized and published in categories, as in a newspaper “classified” section. Display ads come in many forms, including banner ads, boxes, and full-page or full screen formats.

The term display advertising also helps set these marketing activities apart from content marketing and native advertising. Display advertising usually stands out to get attention, and can use techniques such as size, pop-up technology, animation and color, and creative design to get noticed.


Programmatic Advertising

Programmatic advertising uses computer technology to automate ad buying, insertion and optimization. The technology also uses data to manage the process of targeting specific audiences based on demographics.

Programmatic buying is used to manage campaigns in social media, mobile, and increasingly in TV media. Programmatic ads involve both artificial intelligence (AI) and real-time bidding (RTB) to automate ad buying and placement, says MarketingLand.

Programmatic advertising is the mechanism behind most paid search placement and pay-per click (PPC) advertising, as SearchEngineLand explains.


Paid Search Placement

Also called pay per click or PPC, cost per click or CPC, paid search placement is a form of Search Engine Marketing or SEM. Google AdWords is the most popular example.

Advertisers pay for more prominent placement in online search results by bidding on targeted keywords. The goal is to drive more web traffic. Viewers can see which results are receiving paid placement, rather than organic placement, by visual markings that identify them as ads.


Banner Advertising

Banner ads traditionally show up as rectangular graphics displayed across the top of a web page (a leaderboard) or down the side (a skyscraper). Advertisers pay publishers on a cost per click basis, explains Investopedia.

While banner ads are trending to drive less revenue on desktop devices, revenue generation is increasing on mobile, and total banner ad revenue is expected to grow at 7% compound annual growth rate through 2021, predicts Ironpaper.

Advertisers are watching recent trends that impact banner ads. Ad blocking and shifts in user behavior challenge advertisers to improve effectiveness. Design creativity and programmatic buying technology are two ways that banner ad marketing is adapting.



Advertorial is a popular term for advertising styled to look like the original editorial content of a publication. “Its television equivalent is ‘infomercial,’ says BusinessDictionary.com. The content is clearly promotional. Advertorials began to appear in print around the 1940s, and rose in popularity (or infamy) on television during the 1980s.

Some industry observers say the main difference between advertorials and native advertising is that native advertising is more subtle; it’s the “new generation” of advertorial.


Native Advertising

Native advertising has the look and feel of the publisher’s content, but is paid for by an advertiser and serves the advertiser’s goal. Though it’s a popular term, the format existed in print long before the Internet. Online forms include articles and social media updates marked as sponsored or promoted content.

Native ads may serve a number of goals, including brand awareness, and may or may not feature a call to action, says Investopedia.


Important Differences Between Content Marketing and Native Advertising

Much confusion swirls around the line between content marketing and native advertising. Rebecca Lieb of Ad Age offers an easy way to clarify: “If there’s a media buy involved, it’s advertising, not content marketing.”

There’s much more to content marketing that’s important to know. But this mini-definition is very helpful to clear up confusion with native advertising. Even very recent articles in industry publications state that native advertising is sometimes content marketing. It isn’t. “If you pay for placement, it’s advertising,” claims the Content Marketing Institute in a clarifying article.

The difference between content marketing and any form of advertising does not depend on how valuable the information is, or whether it looks more like an article than an ad. Content marketing and native advertising — or any advertising — can be used together to help brands widen their audience and promote their business goals.


Clarity Helps You Navigate the Changes Underway

Advertising and its range of formats, techniques and platforms is constantly evolving. Current trends point to growing interest in digital forms of advertising.

“It’s no secret advertisers are flocking to digital at the expense of traditional formats,” observes eMarketer. Spending in the US on digital ads ($72.09 billion) surpassed spending for TV ads ($71.29 billion) for the first time in 2016, and this gap is expected to grow.

By resolving some of the confusion around marketing and terminology, we can better recognize good information from popular but less-accurate comments. A better understanding of terminology can also help you explore what is changing in the industry and what new advertising tools might do for you.

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