Asking For Trouble

You might have read yesterday’s screed about how AT&T was selling “unlimited” data plans that really had limits and shaken your head. I mean, doing something as deceptive as that would never cross your mind, right? Well, let’s put that deception into another, more prevalent context and find out.

The Association of National Advertisers did a survey about native advertising. You know what that is – content created by or for a sponsor which looks very much like the environment in which it runs. Maybe it’s completely straightforward or maybe it contains subtile messaging about the sponsor’s product or service. As the ANA puts it:

Native advertising is an advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing messaging in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed. The advertiser’s intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and increase the likelihood users will engage with it.

Many marketers (58%) are already engaged in this and many more intend to do so in the next year. I’m not going to go off (again) on publishers who do their damnedest to blur the line between ad and editorial. Instead, let’s just look at what the ANA found:

  • Two-thirds of respondents agree that native advertising needs clear disclosure that it is indeed advertising. Only 13 percent feel that such disclosure is not needed.
  • Both the publisher and the advertiser have a responsibility to ensure disclosure.
  • Three-fourths of respondents feel that there is an ethical boundary for the advertising industry when it comes to native advertising.

That’s all well and good except that when it comes to how that disclosure is made, we might just have an issue (and what the hell are the 13% thinking?). A company called TripleLift surveyed 209 U.S. consumers for their thoughts on how native ads are presented. They were shown a native ad on a website and different respondents saw the ad with different labels.  Seventy-one percent said they noticed the content in the ad, but fully 62 percent didn’t realize they were looking at an ad.  When asked which labels were the most clear, “advertisement” and “sponsored by” were the best in terms of letting consumers know they were looking at an ad.  The problem is that readers do NOT like feeling as if they’ve been deceived, as a study by Contently found:

  • 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.

So let’s go back to the AT&T question.  Would you knowingly try to deceive a consumer?  Before you answer, are you running native ads that just might be doing exactly that?  Are we – marketers and publishers – just asking for trouble in our quest for better engagement?  Let me know your thoughts.

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

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