Trust Issues: Readers Wary of Camouflaged Content

At a time when branded content seems to be flourishing, a recent study uncovers some unnerving data.
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Turns out that there’s a big trust issue in native advertising (high quality sponsored content, provided in the context of the user’s experience, such as promoted tweets or branded articles placed alongside editorial content). Contently ran a survey last month to learn how users feel about sponsored content, and the results were striking. Key findings of the study include:

  • Two-thirds of readers have felt deceived upon realizing that an article or video was sponsored by a brand
  • 54 percent of readers don’t trust sponsored content
  • 59 percent of readers believe a news site loses credibility if it runs articles sponsored by a brand

Contently also points out “a fascinating correlation: as education levels increase, so too does the likelihood of a respondent feeling deceived by a piece of branded content.”

At a time when branded content seems to be flourishing and more prevalent than ever before, this data might be unnerving.

Yet, that’s not to say that brands don’t find success in native ads: Forbes explains a study which found that users are “considerably more likely to share a native ad [than a banner ad] with others (32% versus 19%) and showed 18% more purchase intent after viewing them.” Intuitively, this makes sense. If the content is genuine, thoughtful, and engaging, readers will consider it valuable. In fact, Upworthy, in a recent interview with Adage, stated this past week that “content from advertisers – in the form of what it calls ‘promoted posts’ – regularly outperforms typical editorial posts on the site.”

In an increasingly noisy world, native advertising offers an opportunity for brands to connect with target audiences in a meaningful way, sharing their expertise and establishing themselves as trustworthy thought leaders. One word of caution for marketers: pay careful attention to how sponsored content is labeled. If a publisher does not clearly designate which content is sponsored – camouflaging promoted posts as editorial content – then readers might feel deceived. Therefore, when choosing a publisher with which to partner for sponsored content, marketers should look for those publications that are upfront in identifying editorial versus sponsored posts. The need for straight-forwardness in native advertising is clear: with an honest approach, brands and users (and publishers, too!) can find value in sponsored content.

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