Brands are increasingly using editorial content to engage with consumers. It is now possible to buy so-called ‘native’ advertising on sites from Buzzfeed to The Guardian, Facebook to Twitter.
The idea is that these adverts look so much like content that consumers barely notice the difference, alerted only by small signs reading “promoted” or “advertorial”.
And spend by brands is increasing. Research by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and PwC found that content and native advertising spend was worth £509 million in 2014, accounting for 22% of display ad spend.
The problem is that as the proliferation of editorial content – from ad features to in-feed distribution and sponsorships – increase people are growing suspicious.
According to new research from Nielsen, trust in advertising in general is on the decline. But trust in editorial content has seen the biggest fall over the past two years, dropping by 8 percentage points to 54%.
Do brands need more guidance?
On the back of the Nielsen research, the IAB has launched new guidelines to help brands provide greater transparency in online advertorials.
It advises brands to provide consumers with prominent visual cues so they know immediately that they are engaging with marketing content. Ads should also be labelled using wording that demonstrates a commercial arrangement is clearly in place.
A study done by the IAB revealed that people decide to engage with content-based ads based on how relevant the ad is to them, whether they’ll derive ‘value’ from it and if it’s clear who it’s from and if they trust the author, brand or publisher.
As a result, people’s trust in a brand or publisher can diminish if the origin of the content is unclear.
Tim Cain, managing director at the Association of Online Publishers, explains: “The continued success of digital advertising relies on positive consumer relationships built on trust. These guidelines demonstrate that advertisers and publishers take seriously their responsibility to provide transparency to their audiences.”
However, despite the declining trust, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) says the current guidelines are already clear enough.
“As a regulator, we have strict rules in place that are designed to keep ads honest and truthful, which in turn help promote consumer trust. The downward trend in trust doesn’t correlate with an equal rise in the number of problem ads,” says a CAP spokesman.
To combat any further loss in trust, the industry body wants to focus on awareness and is looking at new ways of promoting its guidance and encouraging advertisers to use its resources.
“We welcome wider industry initiatives to be upfront and clear with consumers. Some of the work we’ve recently undertaken was around producing new guidance for vloggers, which centres around the issue of clearly identifying when editorial content is in fact advertising,” the spokesman adds.
Approaching editorial content correctly
Questions will naturally arise about the cause of this distrust. Is it the volume of ads, increasingly cynical and media savvy consumers or consumers who are more immune to commercial messages?
Matt Crenshaw, marketing director Americas for content agency Outbrain, says part of the problem could be that brands are not approaching editorial content correctly – using it to sell rather than entertain.
“Editorial content that’s informative and educational is very effective, but customers don’t appreciate being overly sold the product in the pitch,” he explains. “When the punchline to the story is the product, that’s when consumers feel like they have been deceived. That’s where you see the erosion of trust, as they feel that the joke is at their expense.”
Coco Vita has just launched its own content platform aimed at bringing coconut oil to the masses through lifestyle articles. To ensure people trust the content on its site, it isn’t actively pushing the brand, but providing unbiased commentary instead.
“We have a broad mix of content and contributors who have an active interest in coconut oil or the wider lifestyle. It’s genuine content, we’re not paying them,” the brand’s marketing director EMEA Pip Brook told Marketing Week.
To combat this erosion of trust, brands need to completely remove themselves from the conversation, says Crenshaw.
“Tell great stories and let the viewers know that the brand is responsible for bringing this content together. But don’t turn content into a sales pitch to use your product.”
- Find out more about breaking through the noise at this year’s Festival of Marketing, where you can listen to speakers on the “Content” stage. For more information go to: www.festivalofmarketing.com