In my last column, I shared some proof points to demonstrate the positive impact of native advertising. These were met with not only skepticism and doubt but downright anger. Most of the dissension was centered around the issue of deception.
Let me start by saying deception is wrong, in any context. And, study after study has proven that once a reader/viewer feels deceived, brand metrics are negatively impacted. While there are marketers who will attempt to shroud their advertising as content, that is not native content, that’s deception.
So let’s agree that content that’s not clearly labeled is not good for the advertiser nor the publisher, and it is not good for society. Now that we agree on that, let’s get back to how we get this right.
By right, I mean the need for branded content to be “transparent, truthful and informative,” as Gregg Hamilton aptly put it in his comment on my last post. These elements are imperative when creating quality branded content. With estimates of total spending on native content doubling to $33.5 million by 2020, saying it is wrong and wishing it will go away is no more productive in this context than it is in our current political climate.
What impresses me most about the naysayers is the assertion that advertisers willfully and purposefully try to deceive people in their attempts to persuade them.
Deception has never proven to be an effective long-term strategy, and the industry and the government generally step in to police it (read the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Federal Trade Commission guidelines related to the labeling of branded content).
The intent of most branded content is to present brand information in a way that people will pay attention. While branded content has always existed (for example, product placement, advertorials, etc.) this current form known as native advertising is a reaction to the increase in mobile, the importance of the feed and the emergence of ad blockers. This is where the first study I referenced in my last post (the IPG/Sharethrough 2013 study) demonstrated that branded content was more effective in drawing consumer’s eyeballs: Consumers looked at native ads 52% more than they did the traditional ads on the page.
The loudest challenge to much of the research presented was that consumers are not aware that they are viewing sponsored content. But the truth is, these studies use content that is clearly labeled. In fact, one of the primary research questions is, does the fact that the content is sponsored impact recall, brand attitudes and purchase intent? In the most recent IPG/Forbes study, ad recall increased from 14% to 73%, brand favorability from 37% to 43%, and purchase intent from 44% to 53% for the content that was clearly labeled.
To address the incessant drumbeat of “people don’t know it is advertising,” I point to the 2015 Contently research. This study looked at branded content on seven different sites (from The Onion to the Wall Street Journal). And yes, there was confusion over whether the content was an article or an ad. Seventy-one percent of Onion readers identified the content as an ad, versus only 20% of WSJ readers. Most interestingly, those who correctly identified the content as an ad and rated the quality of the content in the top-two box on a five-point scale, also reported more trust for the sponsoring brand.
We might not like these results, but we have to live with them. Sponsored content that is transparent, truthful and informative proves to be an effective way of communicating brand information. Content that is disguised is not.
I have never met a client who will continue paying for advertising that doesn’t work. Ultimately, good does triumph over evil, and I do still believe that love trumps hate. Therefore, I call on us to be the stewards of quality content on both sides of the divide.