Can Customers Tell the Difference between Advertising and Content?
One of the continuous changes we are seeing in business today is the shocking transformation of the selling process in both the B2B and B2C ecosystems.
In a world of 24/7 social media, where access and exposure to advertising, marketing information, content-based marketing activities, and other information managed through marketing automation systems is infinite, business leaders need to understand and embrace every tool and insight possible to gain competitive advantage.
During the recent holiday break, I started to conduct research on this topic and found some interesting insight by Bartosz W. Wojdynski and Nathaniel J. Evans of the University of Georgia. For an academic research paper, it’s an easy read and some of the findings are very important to help demystify business acumen.
The biggest take-away from the paper that I want to share is that buyers and decision makers are having a difficult time distinguishing the difference between “native advertising” and editorial content. The business acumen implication of this can be profound from a Marketing perspective. And, as a result of this research, we are modifying some of our marketing acumen content and simulation decisions by updating the algorithms to reflect these marketing effects.
Wojdynski and Evans conducted several experiments to measure the reactions of decision makers on the size and placement of native advertising in online news articles and their results provide valuable business acumen insight.
The researchers asked decision makers to read online content of two stories; one editorial and one presenting native advertising. They displayed 12 different versions of an advertisement with varying types of disclosure labels (“advertising,” “sponsored by,” “brand voice,” and “presented by”), as well as different positions for the disclosure label including at the top, middle, and bottom of the page.
The decision makers had to read the native ad first, followed by the real news story, then were asked to tell the difference between the stories.
Shockingly, 17 out of the 242 decision makers – 7% - were able to identify the paid marketing message in the experiment!
In addition – and to me just as interesting – the experiment also illustrated that the decision makers were seven times more likely to identify content as being “paid content” when it was marked with terms like “sponsored by” or “advertising” then terms such as “presented by” or “brand voice.”
The second experiment was really fascinating as it used eye-tracking technologies to determine the best physical placement for “disclosure statements” within online articles.
In this experiment, the authors found that placement in the middle of the page was more than twice as visible as placement at the top of the page. 90% of the decision makers saw and acknowledged the statement in the middle and only 40% saw it at the top. In addition, 60% of the decision makers saw the statement at the bottom of the page.
Business Acumen Perspectives
As with many things related to business, the government has weighed in on this issue. In my further research, I found that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just released guidelines on the practices of Native Advertising in business and after reading through them, I must share that they are very practical and helpful because they provide tangible examples of what they consider good and bad. Essentially, the FTC is warning that digital native advertisements that appear in information feeds on publishers’ sites, search results, email blasts, and social media posts can be construed as “deceptive” unless the advertiser clearly discloses that they are ads. In the release, the FTC did make critical mention of terms “promoted story” and “promoted by” because they are ambiguous.
In summary, the processes and tools of marketing and selling continue to evolve rapidly and the results of these experiments provides interesting business acumen insight into the formulation and execution of business and marketing strategies. It is not really a big surprise that most decision makers can’t tell the difference between advertising and content given the amount of information available (and the limited attention span of decision makers and consumers in general). Business and Marketing leaders must look for ways to legally and ethically present the right information to the right decision makers to make sure that when that decision maker reaches the stage of the buying process where the information is favorable to your company.