A savvy consumer can sniff out a business review that was posted by someone close to the business. It’s quite obvious when they directly challenge other negative reviews and speak about parts of the business that would go unnoticed by infrequent customers. No one likes that and it leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.
But what about those sneaky editorial pieces from our most trusted online publications? Clicking around through any content filled website (like BuzzFeed or Wired) will eventually lead you to a sponsored post from a brand that resonates with most if its readers.
While you’re more likely to climb Mount Everest than click a banner ad, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll read a 500-word post without thinking twice about the source. For unknown reasons this phenomenon doesn’t raise the same red flags as those staged reviews.
According to Nielsen, 67% of consumers trust editorial content online, 68% trust consumer opinions and 69% trust branded websites. This trust is based in nothing besides consumer inclination.
It’s created an intriguing and dangerous paradigm for brands that want to position themselves as knowledgeable sources of entertainment and information. While some consumers immediately realize they’re reading sponsored content and believe that information, those that don’t may feel exploited and tricked.
The fact is in today’s world, truth sells. Brands must be more transparent about their motives in sharing information that would incline readers to buy their products and services.
As an agency, we embrace this responsibility. The content marketing campaigns developed for our clients are honest representations of the brands. Any paid blogger is required to share a disclaimer explaining their motive for posting about a product or service. Essentially, our ads stand out just like they’re supposed to.
Creating misleading content that looks like and fits the layout of its publication didn’t originate in the digital world. Its first incarnation was ‘advertorials.’ These copy filled ads were made to look just like the publication they were running in, but fundamental publishing ethics required them to be printed in different font types and column widths.
Today, digital sponsored content can look exactly like the rest of the posts on a page. Instead of proudly branding the content with a logo or the words “Paid Advertisement,” companies continue to deceive readers. Using phrases like “From around the web,” or “Sponsored content,” creating a perception of objectivity.
Native advertising has been a tactic on the rise and its effectiveness is well documented by content marketers. It’s time for the FTC to start creating new standards for native advertising to appropriately address the issue of misleading consumers. It’s been over a year since they hosted a workshop to discuss native advertising, but nothing has changed since.
If brands are so confident that their content is useful, honest and high quality they should be willing to stand behind it instead of hiding behind its publishers.