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Consumers cannot tell online native ads and editorial content apart

January 6, 2016 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

Consumers cannot distinguish online native advertising from online editorial content according to a research study conducted by assistant professors Bartosz W. Wojdynski and Nathaniel J. Evans from the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Their research included two separate studies to assess consumers’ recognition of paid advertising content.

Sponsored content is often designed to look as if it is a part of the editorial content. Noting this, publishers identify native ads and disclose it as promotional content. Business Insider Intelligence forecasts spending on online native advertisements will grow to $21 billion by 2018 from $7.9 billion in 2015. The growth of native advertising online has brought forward questions regarding the consumers’ ability to recognize them as advertisement.

The professors first study invited subjects to read online content featuring two stories: one that was editorial content and one that was a native ad. The study assessed the impact of the disclosure label and whether consumers could identify sponsored articles as advertising content. The second study included eye-tracking to help determine the best position for visual attention to disclosure labels. In the first study 7% of readers identified the content as advertising, and in the second eye-tracking study, 17% identified the articles as advertising. Further, the second study also found that readers were seven times more likely to identify as advertising those articles that used “advertising” or “sponsored content” in the disclosure label versus those that used terms like “brand voice” or “presented by.”

The practice of online native advertising is still evolving as advertisers work creatively to reach consumers. Importantly, as native advertising becomes more prevalent it’s essential to identify best practice by monitor the impact of designs of the disclosure labels on consumers’ recognition.

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