Native advertising is becoming increasingly popular, but it is also a cause for concern about how the readers will respond to it. How far can advertisers and media go without affecting the trust of consumers and readers? Do readers understand the difference between editorial content and native advertising? And will they care to engage with native advertising if they do?
A new study by the University of Antwerp and de Persgroep Advertising set out to answer these questions by testing the effect of a real advertisement on readers of the belgium news medium HLN.be.
An online experiment was set up for visitors of HLN.be by the University of Antwerp. For the tests the investigators used an existing native article that was adapted on the basis of six experimental conditions measuring the effect of brand prominence and label position.
How we tested
The participants were randomly given one of the six adapted native articles. The brand prominence in the article was either high (several references were made to the brand) or low (the brand was only referred to once).
The article further contained a label at the top, a label in the middle, or two labels (one at the top and one in the middle of the article). The label was described as “brought to you by ....”
The effect of the different conditions was measured on the basis of several criteria: the image and appreciation of the brand, the trust in the news medium, the assessment of the article, and brand recall. The results discussed here were reweighted to the profile of visitors of HLN.be.
From this experiment we learned three useful lessons about native advertising.
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What we learned
Lesson #1: Do not talk about yourself too much
If a brand is explicitly mentioned several times in the text or label there is a bigger chance the reader will remember the brand. However, advertisers have to make sure not to talk too much about themselves. A high brand prominence ensures a higher brand recall in the short term, but can simultaneously have a negative impact on the image and appreciation of the brand and medium.
The experiment of HLN.be by the University of Antwerp shows if the brand prominence is low, readers are more positive about the article, the medium, and the brand itself than in the case of a high brand presence.
If the brand prominence is low, readers are more positive about the article
With a lower brand prominence compared to a higher brand prominence readers considered the text to be more honest (79% vs 66%), more credible (79% vs 69%), more fun (75% vs 64%), and more convincing (72% vs 55%). With a lower brand presence the brand itself was evaluated as being more attractive, better, more pleasant, more positive, and more fun. The trust in the medium HLN.be was also higher (72% vs 63%).
Lesson #2: Use a clear label
Clear labeling stating who is offering the content of the article is an absolute must to maintain the trust of consumers and readers. Especially in the case of a low brand presence it is important to provide clear labelling to make it obvious to the reader that this is a sponsored article.
The experiment demonstrated that adding the label “brought to you by ...” both at the top and in the middle of the article has the best effect on reader appreciation not only of the medium and the article, but also of the brand. The use of clear labels offers advertisers the possibility to expose their brands in a positive way without prejudice to their credibility.
Lesson #3: The majority of HLN.be readers do not find native advertising disturbing
Half of the readers do not have a problem with native articles on the condition they clearly indicate this is sponsored content. Another 27% claim to first take a look at the content of the article, whether or not it is sponsored. 8% have no problem with it at all. Only 14% of readers find this type of article very annoying.
Only 14% find native advertising very annoying
A low brand prominence in combination with a label both at the top and in the middle of the text attains the best appreciation scores from readers and consumers. Advertisers who use native advertising smartly and are not afraid to evaluate their long-term goals shall undoubtedly have great success with their native campaigns. For the media, well-made native campaigns can also mean interesting content for their readers.
The study discussed here was set up in cooperation with Simone Krouwer, PhD researcher at the University of Antwerp.
Editor's note: A version of this blogpost also appeared on INMA.org and on the blog of de Persgroep Advertising Adver.
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