Native Advertising, Sponsored Content and “Truthiness”

There are just a few slight problems with sponsored content:  Readers consider it less trustworthy … and value it less.

Lack of trust in sponsored content
It’s really not that interesting — and I don’t trust you, anyway.

Here’s a behavioral statistic that should be a little disconcerting to marketers:  Only about one in four readers scroll down on sponsored content (native advertising) on publisher websites.

Compare that to ~70% of those same readers who scroll down on other types of news content.

That’s what the chief executive officer of Chartbeat, a developer and purveyor of real-time web analytics software for media publishers, has contended, leading others to try to probe these attitudes further and try to find out more about the dynamics that are at work.

One such effort is online field research conducted this past summer by Contently, a freelance writing services clearinghouse.  It discovered that the difference in engagement levels relates to “trust.”

Generally speaking, readers trust sponsored content a whole lot less than they do “normal” content.

More specifically, here’s what Contently’s research, which targeted ~550 U.S. adults ages 18 to 65, found in terms of trust attitudes:

  • I generally don’t trust sponsored content: ~54%
  • I trust the content only if I trust the brand already: ~22%
  • I trust the content only if I trust the publication: ~19%
  • I generally trust sponsored content:  ~5%

It gets even murkier when we consider that not all readers agree on the same definition of “sponsored content.”

While the largest proportion of people consider “sponsored content” on a news website to be an article that an advertiser paid to be created as well as had input into its content, it was only a plurality of respondents:

  •  A sponsor paid and influenced the article: ~48%
  • A news site wrote it, but a sponsor paid money for it to run: ~20%
  • A sponsor paid for its name to appear next to news content: ~18%
  • A sponsor wrote the article:  ~13%

And here’s a real kick in the gut:  More people in the Contently survey would rather be served “bad ol’ banner ads” than encounter sponsored news and other posts:

  • Would rather see banner ads:  ~57% of respondents
  • Prefer sponsored posts because banner ads are annoying: ~26%
  • Prefer sponsored posts because they’re more interesting than banner ads: ~18%

The findings aren’t much different based on the age or education levels of respondents, either.

If anything, more highly educated people (those with graduate degrees) are most likely to prefer banner ads over sponsored posts.  The reason boils down to concern over the issue of deception:  A large majority of respondents reported that they have ever “felt deceived” upon realizing an article was actually sponsored by an advertiser.

Considering the disapproving numbers collected in the survey, it’s not surprising that Contently also found that respondents are far prone to click on a piece of sponsored content compared to other content:

  • Less likely to click on sponsored content: ~66%
  • More likely: ~1%
  • Equally likely: ~33%

credible sourceLastly, publishers should take note that their credibility is being diminished in the eyes of many, based on the practice of publishing native advertising.  The Contently survey found that nearly 60% expressed the view that publishers lose credibility when they run such sponsored content.

Of course, native advertising and sponsored content isn’t going to go away.  It’s too wrapped up in today’s business models for successful publishing and successful brand engagement.

But it’s clear that publishers, advertisers and the brands they represent have a bigger hurdle to clear in order for their content to be considered worthy of their readers’ attention and engagement.

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