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Sponsored Content: Is it working?

buzzfeed 2Sponsored content, which are articles paid for or written by a brand and hosted on a publisher’s site, can be a strong part of your digital communications plan. Over the past few years, the rise of sponsored content has exploded, but so have concerns on whether or not brands are trying to deceive consumers.

This type of content, also known as native advertising, can feel like an authentic article or story. If one cannot discern the content as sponsored by a brand relatively easily, a reader can feel misled and develop distrust for the brand. With brands spending anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000 to host their sponsored content on such platforms as Time, Buzzfeed and Refinery29, one has to ask if it’s worth it?

A new survey conducted by Contently explores how consumers feel towards native advertising by assessing how 509 consumers of varying ages interpreted sponsored content on third-party publisher sites.

Here are the key findings from Contently’s survey:

• On nearly every publication tested, consumers tend to identify native advertising as an article, not an advertisement.

• Consumers often have a difficult time identifying the brand associated with a piece of native advertising, but it varies greatly, from as low as 63 percent (on The Onion) to as high as 88 percent (on Forbes).

• Consumers who read native ads that they identified as high quality reported a significantly higher level of trust for the sponsoring brand.

• When publishing native ads, 62 percent of respondents think a news site loses credibility. In a separate study we conducted a year ago, 59 percent of respondents said the same.

• Upon realizing a piece of content was sponsored by a brand, 48 percent of respondents felt deceived. This is a 15 percent decrease from last year’s survey.
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When exploring the survey’s results, some aspects are clear. Native advertising is hurting a publisher’s brand when they are not upfront and clear about a piece of content being sponsored. It’s noteworthy that many publishers felt they were being clear, but their readers disagreed. It will be interesting to see how publishers balance the high profit margins of native advertising with the destruction of their brand’s reputation and efforts to build trust with consumers.

On the other side of the coin, brands are gaining trust with consumers when they are clear about the sponsorship and are providing high quality content. In addition to increased brand visibility and shared content, native advertising can be a huge win for brands and marketers.

Simply put, every expert PR and marketing professional understands how the more authentic and honest a brand is, the better a campaign’s results will be. Contently’s survey seems to further reinforce this sentiment.

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