Study Finds Two In Three Consumers Trust Branded Content More Than Traditional Advertising

The findings of a new study by Time Inc. reveal that two in three consumers trust branded content more than traditional advertising. For the study, the publisher sought to understand how GenZ, Millennials, and GenX consumers respond to and engage with branded native and branded content and referred to both as “custom content”.

Specifically, the study found that GenZ is quite open to custom content, with 93% of respondents in that demographic saying they want to see brands do something new, unique, or creative to get their attention; 88% indicating that custom content feels like a good way for new brands it hasn’t heard of to reach them; 84% agreeing that custom content is a way for brands to engage them, and 72% wanting video and infographics to better explore a story or data. GenZ respondents are “a visual bunch. When they see content that matters and that’s relevant, they want to use all the components of storytelling to get into it,” said Chris Schraft, president, enterprise content sales and agency development for The Foundry, Time Inc.’s content studio.

In addition, 57% of respondents said they feel brands put more thought into being creative and interesting in custom content; 56% like that brands aren’t just trying to sell, but are sharing something “cool” or teaching them; and 56% appreciate brands that partner with sources they trust. “The study shows that consumers are very open to custom content as a more interesting way to connect,” said Schraft.

The study analyzed the attitudes of Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X consumers. Time Inc. hosted online communities of about 200 “Auto Buffs,” “Fashionistas,” “Foodies,” and “Finance Gurus” and also conducted surveys of about 17,000 U.S. consumers in these categories to get their take on if and how custom content resonates, best practices for it, and what consumers want to see from brands based on over a dozen campaigns. The research was conducted over the last six months in conjunction with Millward Brown and Latitude.

Online community members offered insights into their thinking: “I feel like the native ads are more engaging. They have more entertainment value, are thought-provoking, and I perceive a more memorable and lasting connection than with traditional click ads.”  --Nicholas, 33, Finance Guru

“Native can be more relatable because of the content the source is offering…it’s better as it integrates into content that you’d enjoy anyway.” --Myranda, 20, Auto Buff

“Custom content must be honest. It can’t be rainbows and unicorns 100% of the time.” --Carolyn, 37, Fashionista

In addition, the study found that 90% of those polled like the idea of custom content as a way for brands to engage them, 89% believe custom content is a great way for brands to break through the clutter, 93% like brands sharing interesting things they may not have otherwise seen, and 92% believe brands have expertise on topics and add value to content. 

Furthermore, Time Inc. used the study to crystalize its own best practices where custom content is concerned. To that end, it created a proprietary framework it calls “B-cubed” which Schraft distilled to “Be Relevant, Be Distinct, and Be on Brand.” The framework aims at helping brands offer valued content in order to improve the performance of their campaigns. Schraft said that being relevant is the most important thing for a branded content campaign: “You have to know your audience and create a content experience that offers value, utility, and entertainment. It’s important to understand the wants and needs of consumers and how to create a brand narrative,” he said.

The study’s findings also showed Time Inc. that consumers are willing to engage with brands online “but more than ever, they want a value exchange -- something for their time and attention,” Schraft said.

When it comes to trust, 57% of study respondents felt that when brands put more thought into being creative and interesting, the ads resonated, while 56% of all respondents placed value on how trusted the sources are partnering with brands, and 59% of GenZ respondents.

Schraft said the study’s findings offer validation in a sector where there is not a lot of data. The study exposed respondents to a variety of different branded content experiences including native, which Schraft described as a mashup between Time Inc. and an advertiser’s brand for a product that is contextually native, and branded content, or storytelling that is done in the voice of the advertiser. In that case, Time Inc. experts create the content but it doesn’t carry the Time Inc. brand.

The Foundry, Time Inc.’s content studio and lab, is two years old. Schraft said it’s worked with 400 advertisers in its first year, and implemented 600 unique campaigns in its first year.



7 comments about "Study Finds Two In Three Consumers Trust Branded Content More Than Traditional Advertising".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 21, 2017 at 9:49 a.m.

    Of course posing such questions in this highly generalized manner could only result in "traditional" advertising losing handily to "branded content". If Time Inc really wanted to explore this issue, it could have focused on particular brands and their ads with much tighter research to determine---or try to determine---how traditional ads work relative to or in concert with "branded content". Instead, all we get is a thinly disguised promotion for "branded content".

  2. Gordon Borrell from Borrell Associates, June 21, 2017 at 12:56 p.m.

    A more accurate headline: "Time Inc. Commissions Study to Support its Big Play in Branded Content." Sorry, but as a research guy, this doesn't pass the sniff test and only tells me that Time Inc. did a good job doofing Media Post into getting free advertising in the news columns. Next up, "Trump is Most Popular President Ever, according to White House Study."

  3. caryn klein from Time Inc., June 22, 2017 at 1:06 p.m.

    This research was quite comprehensive focusing on advertising across eight different categories, ranging from Auto to CPG to Finance, and focused on understanding the relationship between content and traditional advertising. Further, this research included a substantial sample from online communities and surveys of over 15,000 respondents from ages 15-49 who are dedicated followers of content within the 8 categories.  Based on the results of this qualitative and quantitative approach, we were able to devise some overall best practices for what people want to see from content experiences. While the good news is many welcome these experiences, know that they set the bar high for how brands can effectively connect with them.  This article took a high level view on what we reported, and we are currently sharing the detailed results with our advertising partners.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, June 22, 2017 at 1:16 p.m.

    Caryn, it's good to hear that there was more to this study than what was reported. The detailed findings are what should be of real interest.

  5. Gordon Borrell from Borrell Associates, June 22, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

    Thanks for explaining the methodology, Caryn. Sounds like solid research of that universe of people who are dedicated followers of content within 8 categories. But I'll always be less trusting of research conducted or sponsored by any company that has a vested interest in what the results say. 

  6. Delia Passi from Medelia, June 28, 2017 at 10:33 p.m.

    WomenCertified research showing similar findings. Women prefer to learn of brands through relevant and meaningful content. TV does not serve her well. Ads serve a very short sighted purpose. Create an emotional connection through a trusted source and watch her engage with her dollars and loyalty. Trusted source is the secret sauce. 

  7. ARKADI NAXSH from facebook, February 20, 2022 at 3:10 a.m.


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