Tag Archives: Branded content

How Not To Get Fired By Consumers

When one of my managers would hire a new person, I always tried to sit that new person down for a few minutes in the middle of their busy (and probably scary) first day. The purpose was to welcome them aboard and to let them know that there was only one thing they could do (other than to break the law or the HR rules, obviously) that would cost them their job. That one thing was lying. In my mind, lying – to me, to their manager, to their co-workers – causes a lack of trust, and that mutual trust is what sees the team through all the challenges of the workplace.

That sort of thinking is what makes me wonder why marketers seem happy to lie all the time. I’m not talking about violating the law and mislabeling products. I’m talking about something much more common which is branded content. Now you might moot thing of branded content as lying, but your customers do. This from the folks at Citi (via Business Insider):

Looking at branded content — specifically as it relates to Facebook‘s opportunity in the space — Citi found that 48% of US internet users felt deceived upon realizing an article or video was not a piece of news or commentary, but was in fact a commercial.

I’m not talking about something like a review guide that was funded by a brand being reviewed as long as it was truly an independant work and properly identified as having been funded by a brand. That is content that is created for the audience and has value. I mean a glowing review, seemingly from a reputabile source,  that is clearly created to promote a single brand. Most of the time there is a little label someplace that mentions it’s an ad, but not always and not always prominent enough for a consumer to notice.

Are you creating content for the consumer or for yourself? Is the content deceptive in any way? Ads disguised as content is lying, and lying will get you fired, even if you’re a brand. You agree?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

2, Not 250

I was listening to one of the many podcasts to which I subscribe yesterday. The speaker was rambling on about the subject of content generation and he said something that made me rewind the podcast so I could be sure I heard him correctly. He was opining that the only reason that companies are spending money on content creation today is to generate data.

His statement made some sense. After all, brands today don’t think of themselves as sponsors of other people’s content. They’ve been sold on the idea that they need to have their own content creation hubs which can populate multiple channels such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter. I encourage that in some ways with my clients since who knows the brand better than the brands themselves?  Who better to speak in the brand’s voice? Who ought to know the customer and the customer’s interests and to reflect those perspectives in their content? But in retrospect, I couldn’t disagree more and here is why.

I might be way naive about this, but I think audiences want to be educated and entertained. I don’t think they want to be tricked into being tracked and giving us data. I think when they are offered a list, that list ought not to be on 25 pages so as to squeeze out every last page view and ad exposure. I think they want to feel emotions – awe, wonder, joy, excitement, rage – and not just kill time. When I read articles about how I can create titles (People love lists! People love “epic”!) to lure people to my blog, I get sad.  I understand that many people are intellectually lazy.  I get that there is a reason for the use of TL;DR as a standard retort on the web but maybe that’s a commentary of what passes for most content these days rather than on the specific content.  People have become overwhelmed by crap and they’re weaning themselves off that crapacious diet by minimizing consumption.

I don’t think greatness is anything is measured by the volume of consumption or traffic numbers.  Thre are still fewer iPhones in the world than Android.  There are still fewer meals served at Per Se than at McDonald’s.  If we all do our best not to post 250 times a day but to post 2 great, enlightening things – however long that enlightenment takes – maybe we can stop the downward spiral of attention spans and intellectual curiosity.  If “stupid is as stupid does”, how about we upgrade what we do?


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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

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

To Whom Are You Speaking?

Everywhere one turns these days there is content. In the old days that content was sourced from entertainment or news organizations which had the consumer’s tastes in mind. After all, the program distributor paid the content creator based on how many eyeballs that content could attract.
Lately, of course, everyone is creating content. You, me (that’s what this is!), and brands. I don’t really have an issue with that. The digisphere is a bully pulpit with room for lots of us. There is something with which I do have an issue, however.

Content assembled by brands comes in two forms. One is the advertising many of you have been trained since birth to avoid. The other is that “branded content” that shows up via “content marketing.” No, not another rant on that subject – I’ve bored you to tears with them already I’m sure. This rant is different.

Here is a tidbit from the folks at Corporate Visions:

More than 70% of respondents do not follow a clearly defined message development process within their organization, while a 10% reported they aren’t sure what their company does at all.

In other words, chaos. Into that vacuum usually steps some well-meaning sales-type who pushes the messaging toward “sell.” This is company-centric messaging. I can’t imagine anything more boring to most people. “We’re better because blah blah blah”. Boring.

Smart companies that have their message creation together do customer-centric messaging. They focus on identifying customers’ and prospects’ unconsidered needs.  They’re there to inform, to entertain, to listen, to help; not to sell.  They’re speaking to the consumer, not at them.  They’er certainly not speaking to their own needs or to make themselves feel as if they’re got the message out there.

So to whom are you speaking?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Trusting Sponsored Content

We’ve explored the subject of branded content or advertorial or deceptive editorial or whatever you want to call it here on the screed a few times.

English: Example of a variable data tear sheet...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some data on the subject that I came across from Contently is worth a minute of your time.  They were spurred to do the research by a statement from the CEO of Chartbeat, an analytics company, who claimed that only 24% of readers were scrolling down on native ad content compared to the 71% of readers who scroll on “normal content.” Since that content is advertising that is supposed to integrate seamlessly with the site’s other content and, therefore, get the sponsor higher brand engagement, that number is pretty disturbing.  For my money, not quite as disturbing in some ways as what the subsequent study found.

Putting aside that most of those surveyed disagree about what exactly qualifies as “sponsored content”, some of the other findings were:

  • 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.
  • As education level increases, so does mistrust of sponsored content.

In fact, the study found that people would rather have to deal with banner ads than sponsored articles, and the more education the consumer has the greater chance they feel deceived by a piece of branded content.  The fine print labeling it as something not quite the same as other editorial does nothing to change consumers’ views.

Way back in October of 2012, this is what I had to say on the subject:

I’m not a fan.  Obviously I’m a big fan of ad-supported media – I worked in it and sold it for decades.  I do think, however, that doing this in digital in particular is an issue since there is so much content out there and users’ expectations of editorial integrity…are not met when the line is crossed.  It calls into question all of the legitimate reporting.  I get that people might ignore advertising but pay attention to this.  They need to know it’s not the same as other content.

My views haven’t changed.  Have yours?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?

I Need To Know

I was reading about a study done by the Nielsen folks which measured how people are influenced by different sources of information.

Tom Petty

Since it’s Tuesday and we usually turn it into TunesDay, the song that popped into my head is Tom Petty‘s “I Need To Know.” OK, maybe not my best musical connection to a business point ever, but I think you’ll see why I chose it.

The Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study measured the impact of product reviews by users, experts and brands to understand if one form provided a higher impact with consumers than another.  You can read about the study here.  The results show that expert content— credible, third-party articles and reviews—is the most effective source of information in impacting consumers along all stages of the purchase process across product categories. Frankly, the results gave me hope.  After all, many of the marketing tactics I see suggested by some of my less scrupulous peers seem not to have the sort of impact their advocates would suggest.  Advertising disguised as content, fake reviews, or even “unbiased” product information on the company website seem to have been sussed out and dismissed by consumers if one believes the data.  I particularly liked this:

The perceived partiality of the source was especially critical in setting expert content and branded content apart. The third-party element was important to consumers: 50% indicated that they wouldn’t trust a product’s branded website for an unbiased assessment of a product, and 61% were less likely to trust product reviews paid for by the company selling the product. Expert content can provide an unbiased and honest assessment of a product, particularly important during the final stage of purchase consideration.

There are cases such as with video game reviews where user comments and reviews are perceived highly.  Obviously someone who has played the game has the low-level of expertise needed to be reliable and trustworthy.  As the report I read states:

The report concludes by noting that, overall, the research suggests that there is a higher degree of trust from consumers when they are reading content from credible, third-party experts. This trust is demonstrated by the higher lift scores with regard to product familiarity, affinity and purchase intent and its perception of being highly informative and unbiased.

So what the song says is appropriate because consumers do need to know and do a lot of research to find out:

I need to know, I need to know
Cause I don’t know how long I can hold on
If you’re making me wait, if you’re leadin’ me on
I need to know

Even if the above refers to a romantic relationship and not to a purchase.  Then again, isn’t that sort of what a product purchase is?

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Filed under Music, Reality checks

The Pandora’s Box Of Content

As we get to the end of the year, many people (myself included) use the leisurely pace of this week to reflect and/or plan.

Pandora's Box Side

(Photo credit: yum9me)

With that in mind, I think we should spend a bit of time reflecting on Pandora’s Box and how it relates to content.  As you remember, said box was said to have contained all the evils of the world.  Modern usage of the expression is more like the Butterfly Effect I’ve written about before – small things leading to major impacts.

The Pandora’s Box to which I’m referring today is that of native advertising.  I’ve written before about this topic as well, but as the pace of publishers to utilize sponsored content that’s made to look like editorial increases, I wanted to pause and reflect on it again.  As The Wall Street Journal reported

Spending on sponsored content is expected to grow 24% to $1.9 billion this year, a faster growth rate than for most other forms of digital marketing. Total digital advertising spending will total $42.3 billion this year, according to eMarketer.

In other words, roughly 5% of all digital ad spending will be on this form.  That’s a lot.  I’m old school – ads should be easily recognized as such.  That said, I have no problem with content put together by a sponsor and a publisher as long as the substance of that content is accurate.  For example, this blog could be considered an ad for my consulting practice.  That said, I go to some lengths to be sure that what I put up here on the screed is fact-based and not one-sided so that you can mind up your own minds.  An article on, say, the health benefits of french fries (good luck with that!) that exists solely because McDonald’s or Burger King commissioned it and seems like every other article on the web page or magazine or TV news report seems well over the foul line.

This Pandora’s Box is wide open.  Even the New York Times digital is accepting this kind of advertising.  Think is will be long before it isn’t 30 minute infomercials we see on TV but 2.5 minute “news updates” that use station talent?    I’m glad the IAB is working on guidelines and I’m glad the FTC is holding hearings.  Ultimately, however, it’s those of us who  are the product (it’s our eyeballs they’re after!) who need to weigh in loudly.  You agree?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Thinking Aloud