In an effort to ensure that readers understand when published news stories represent “earned” rather than “unearned” media, in late 2015 the Federal Trade Commission established some pretty clear guidelines for news stories that are published for pay.
The rationale behind the guidelines is that the FTC wants advertisers to be prevented from presenting paid content in ways that mask the fact that it’s a form of advertising. Essentially, it wants to avoid leaving the erroneous impression that the advertiser did not create — or influence the creation — of the content, or that it paid a fee in order for the news to be published.
But what native advertising content developer Polar has found is that the explicit disclosures the FTC wishes advertisers to include as part of their stories tend to have a negative impact on readership.
… Which is precisely what native advertising is trying to avoid, of course.
After all, the whole point of these articles is to appear that they’re published due to their inherent newsworthiness, rather than because advertisers wish to push a sales message disguised as “narrative” so strongly, they’re willing to fork over big bucks for the privilege.
In its evaluation, Polar analyzed ~140 native placements across 65 publishers, and found that only ~55% of them used the term “sponsored” as a way to label the content.
As for the term “advertisement” or “advertorial,” the incidence of usage was far lower; less than 5% of the native placements identified their content as such.
Correlated to these findings was that more euphemistic terms like “partner content” tend to perform better in terms of reader engagement than do more explicit disclosures of an advertiser relationship.
“Promoted” was found to be the best performing term, garnering a 0.19% clickthrough rate as compared to “sponsored,” with just a 0.16% clickthrough rate.
[Interestingly, on desktop devices “sponsored” marginal outperformed “promoted,” whereas on mobile devices it was just the opposite.]
More broadly, the Polar investigation also found that nearly one-third of the pay-to-play native advertising placements it evaluated failed to comply at all with the FTC guidelines (as in zip/zero/nada) – which brings up a whole other set of issues at a time of heightened awareness of the “fake news” phenomenon online.