Readers Often Don’t Trust or Understand ‘Sponsored Content,’ Survey Finds

July 10, 2014

Many readers feel tricked by so-called sponsored content or native advertising, which looks like editorial content but an advertiser pays for it. In a new survey, two-thirds of respondents said they felt deceived when they realized that a brand was sponsoring an article or video.

As Fortune reports, digital ventures such as BuzzFeed have embraced this kind of advertising, as have online versions of traditional publications like Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Fortune. Last year, advertisers spent a reported $2.4 billion on native ads — a 77 percent increase from 2012.

In the survey conducted by Contently, a startup that connects brands with writers who create sponsored content, just more than half of respondents said they don’t trust such content. Fifty-nine percent said they think that a news site that runs this type of camouflaged advertising loses credibility.

Publishers and advertisers argue that sponsored content is labeled as such. But according to the study, readers are confused about what the phrase “sponsored content” means. Half think it denotes that a sponsor paid for and influenced the article, while one-fifth believes that an editorial team produces the content but “a sponsor’s money allowed it to happen.” Eighteen percent think the sponsor paid to have its name appear next to the article, and 13 percent think it means that the sponsor itself wrote the article. — Greg Beaubien


Tucker Mitchell says:

And one good-sized daily newspaper in North Carolina (Greensboro) recently announced that it had struck a deal with a local arts organization, in which the org would provide an agreed upon sum to pay for freelance articles on the arts -- up to 70 a year I believe -- which the newspaper would control. I suspect there will be a fair amount of reader confusion over that, especially if said arts organization were to encounter some kind of scandal. It is a confusing world out there.

July 14, 2014

Jenifer R. Daniels, APR says:

a local medical business was running sponsored content on the homepage of the local newspaper in Charlotte. i haven't seen anything lately, but it struck me as very odd and borderline unethical.

July 15, 2014

Tony Ahn says:

While two thirds of people feel deceived upon realizing that a brand was sponsoring an article or video, over 95% of people that read sponsored content will never realize that it is sponsored. Content marketing is exploding right now and content marketing agencies aren't going to be too worried about the 2% of people that feel deceived if they can influence or convert a significant portion of the other 98%.

July 22, 2014

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