Does Branded Content Really Work?

That’s the question on the minds of most marketers that have employed some form of branded content, whether it’s in-feed native advertising or another format.

And new research by Polar and Ipsos Connect delves into the effectiveness of branded content, asking if branded content indeed works. And, are there specific best practices that publishers can employ to improve its impact?

The research report defines effectiveness based on key performance indicators (KPI) that most marketers are aware of: unaided awareness, purchase intent, brand equity, and retransmission (the likelihood the content will be shared).

Polar said it began exploring branded measurement last fall, focusing on three different types of branded content: sponsored editorial, custom content (where you see the brand slightly throughout the content but no product descriptions), and heavily integrated custom content (content that has lot of brand messaging, product placements, etc.).

Polar tested different ad formats including image-based content (graphics, image galleries, and slide shows), article-based content, and video-based content. It tested more than 30 pieces of content, with each type tested by a minimum of 1,000 people  via desktop, mobile, and both.

Among the findings of the study, conducted in March 2017:

--Consumer awareness of a brand increased to 69% after engaging with branded content, while purchase intent was 51%. The study also used a control group with no branding.

--Incorporating companion display ads next to branded content improved purchase intent by 17% and didn’t have a negative impact on brand perception.

“We found that having companion display ads improves likability by 9% with no negativity,” said Greg Bella, VP of marketing, Polar. He suggested that publishers might take this as a message to sell branded content with companion display ads.

--Purchase intent was slightly higher when content was consumed on desktop, yet certain categories like consumer packaged goods (CPG) performed better on mobile.

“It was surprising to see that different brand verticals performed differently in this regard,” Bella said. In addition, he said marketers continue to think purchase intent is driven by performance marketing environments.

--Imagery (infographics, image galleries, and slide shows) performed the best among content formats. And notably, video isn’t always needed to tell the story. However, imagery outperformed articles by 11%.  

--Less is more with branded content. “Publishers don’t always need to heavily incorporate brand messaging and products to make an impact for the advertiser,” Bella said. “When it come to branded content, your strategies should have a mix of different types of content—pure awareness content and sponsored editorial.”

"We found that consumers responded a bit more favorably when there was less obvious branding,” Bella said.

Polar and Ipsos Connect found that CPG and tech were the two top-performing industry verticals in the research.

“When we looked at differences between desktop and mobile, the overall trend is desktop outperforms mobile. But when looking specifically at CPG and tech, the impact is significantly higher than the average across all content and constant across device types for both purchase intent and retransmission, an Ipsos composite metric designed to predict the likelihood of social sharing,” said Dave Smith, SVP, U.S., Ispos Connect.

The research found that advertising support was most beneficial in CPG and tech as well, enabling significant increases across all brand KPIs compared to the content averages. Smith attributed the findings in CPG and tech to a high level of familiarity with the categories, brands, and the broad audience measured, combined with strong content. 

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