Report Finds Most Publishers Use 'Sponsored' To Denote Native Ad Content

What’s the status of native advertising disclosures? A recent report by Polar, “The State of Native Disclosure” focused on three issues:

-- What terms,  like “sponsored content” or “presented by," did publishers use as a disclosure label on their native advertising?

-- Whether publishers mentioned an advertiser by name or used the advertiser’s logo.

-- The design and visual elements of the native ads: borders, shading, etc.

Polar examined 65 of its partner Web sites, containing 137 native ad placements and 67 unique styles within, to present a comprehensive look at how publishers approach disclosure in branded content and native placements.

The findings are interesting: The most frequently used disclosure term was “sponsored,” used by more than 55% of the publishers surveyed. Eighteen percent 1 used “promoted,” and the rest used “other” kinds of terms, according to the research which was fielded in July.

The use of  “sponsored” by the overwhelming majority of publishers is notable since it’s the term of choice in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines that were issued in December 2015. 

Among the other findings:

-- Over 85% of native ad units analyzed had only one disclosure term used in their native ad.

-- Most native ads incorporate two to three design elements when disclosing themselves as a native advertisement.

-- Almost 90% of publishers have different colors for the disclosure term than for the headline.

-- Including the advertiser's name in a native ad's disclosure term can increase click-through rate (CTR) by 2.2x.

-- Placing a disclosure term after the headline improves CTR by 3x on mobile.

Native advertising performed better on desktop vs. mobile, the report found. Why? Greg Bella, director of marketing for Polar, said shading on native ads might have an impact: “Maybe publishers would like to use the word ‘promoted’ on mobile but they’re sticking with the FTC guidelines regardless of performance."

The report also found that using the name of the advertiser in native ads is a best practice. “When using the name of the advertiser, we found that publishers achieved the highest click-through rate, and that’s especially true on mobile,” Bella said. “On mobile, the name of a brand comes across a lot crisper and cleaner.”

Regarding design elements, the research found that only one-third of publishers use a unique form of shading on their native ad units. On mobile, shading is often used effectively to demonstrate that the ad unit is, in fact, native. Shaded units on mobile had higher click-through rates vs. desktop. The research suggests that taking a shading approach to native ad design on mobile is effective, but shading should be avoided on desktop.

Overall, Bella said the research revealed that publishers are “really starting to align with the FTC guidelines. A year ago, the findings would have been all over the place, with publishers using ‘presented by’ or’ promoted by.' Now, the majority are using one single term centered around the term ‘sponsored.'" he said.

Polar is now working on fielding some original research in partnership with Ipsos  that will focus on the different types of branded content. “There’s confusion about what native actually means. What does branded content mean? Partner content? We’re trying to bring some clarity,” Bella said.

For the purposes of the forthcoming research, Polar has divided branded content into three different categories: sponsored editorial, custom content (where the brand is heavily involved in content creation), and partner content (where the brand may create video assets and it uses publishers as distributors).

The upcoming research will look at these three different content types. “We’ll test how brand association improves with each type of content, and how much of a difference the type of content makes in lifting brand affinity. Is the performance different on desktop vs. mobile? And why.”

This research is due in October.

2 comments about "Report Finds Most Publishers Use 'Sponsored' To Denote Native Ad Content".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, September 16, 2016 at 2:26 p.m.

    This is one case where the government got it. The idea that this content is "native" is a fallacy cooked up by the ad biz. Consumers, most of whom don't care about our terms, know, or want, full disclosure; that it's a sponsored message. The whole idea of "native" just shows a sense of cluelessness about the consumer mindset.

    I'm interested in seeing the actual research, although the idea that different content makes a difference in "lifting brand affinity" is most likely a given. Good and relevant content will. Crap won't.

  2. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, September 16, 2016 at 5:04 p.m.

    Here’s a link to a piece about the Slippery Slope of Native Advertising.

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