Branded content, or its hyped cousin, native advertising, is supposed to combat ad fatigue when consumers are bombarded with ads all day, everywhere. The problem is measuring effectiveness. With no agreement on how to measure native (much less how to define it), it’s no surprise that publishers are eager to prove that native advertising, with its promise of premium rates, works.
Thus comes a new study by IPG Media and commissioned by Forbes Media that’s hoping to make the case for the format. IPG surveyed 2,259 participants from Forbes.com and showed them Web pages from the site containing branded content from ads in three verticals (auto, liquor and financial services).
Those looking at pages with branded content were 41 percent more likely to express an intent to buy the brand versus those who saw a regular Web page with no branded content. Similarly, those who saw branded content were 28 percent more likely to have a favorable view of the brand, the research, which IPG is publishing later today, showed.
Mark Howard, CRO of Forbes Media, said the study’s major takeaway for him was that the findings about how branded content can change a brand’s perception complement the traditional publishing metrics that Forbes uses in measuring the campaigns using its 3-year-old BrandVoice platform.
“It begins to answer that question, ‘how well does branded content work for brands to be able to forge a relationship with an audience?’ and ‘how does that dialogue begin to shift perceptions?'” Howard said. “We know it has impact, but we haven’t been able to quantify it before.”
The study also considered native advertising in its different iterations. When consumers saw branded content that was paired with a display ad from the same brand, they were more likely to recall the brand than if they had looked at a page that had branded content with no display ad at all.
Interestingly, though, adding a display ad to a page that had branded content didn’t help with purchase intent. Howard believes that might be because the brands measured (Chrysler, Woodford Reserve and Charles Schwab) are in categories where the path to purchase is long.
The study also looked at attitudes towards branded content depending on where it’s published. In a finding that will likely encouragement to publishers all over, the study showed that readers were 41 percent more likely to share branded content when they read it on Forbes.com versus on the brand’s own site.
It’s tempting to conclude that content, even branded, is seen by readers as more trusted and shareworthy if it originated on a premier publisher’s site versus a brand’s. But did those sharing branded content from Forbes.com know it was created by the brand as opposed to Forbes editorial staff? (Some publishers, Forbes included, have been accused of confusing readers by dressing up ads as editorial content.)
Howard admitted it’s possible, as survey participants weren’t expressly told that the content came from the brand, “but we go to great lengths to make sure it’s all transparently labeled on the site.”
So could native advertising be hitting a wall?
Marketers and publishers continue to fall all over themselves to create messaging that doesn’t look like advertising and that doesn’t annoy the reader. But the format is facing growing pains.
“Agencies aren’t ready to turn on a dime and do this,” Rey Peralta, svp, director of creative technology at Deutsch, New York, said during a panel discussion last week hosted by Livefyre. “Everyone has to get in the same room. It’s incredibly challenging.”
Jordan Kretchmer, founder and CEO of Livefyre, which acts as a middleman between publishers and advertisers by amplifying social conversation about brands across the Web, also pointed the finger at agencies. Seeing as they work on native ads for no extra money and are not set up to corral all those who need to be involved in the process, agencies “currently aren’t incentivized to really push for native ads and, therefore, are many times the blocker in getting a native campaign pushed through,” Kretchmer responded in an email. The process is ineffective and needs to change, he added.
Like agencies, clients often aren’t structured to take on native, often finding it is easier and faster to buy programmatic ads.
This friction is a problem for digital publishers that are banking on native and other premium-priced ad formats to stem the rush of ad dollars to lower-CPM programmatic ads. For marketers, it’s a chance to move beyond the hated banner ad and create messaging that’s more engaging.
It also doesn’t help that there’s no agreement on what native advertising is or on how to measure its effectiveness. And that’s before the content itself is even created, a process that by its nature is fraught because the ad has to serve the advertiser without annoying the reader.
The lack of a universally agreed-upon definition of native advertising is a drag on the process and can lead to missed opportunities.
Peralta recalled one case in which Deutsch handled the creative and another agency, Starcom MediaVest, did media planning. “There was nothing to point to and say, ‘This is what we’re doing,’” he said. “I had to get on 20 phone calls a day to explain it to all the partners.”
“We need to make it easier for our sellers to understand,” added Adam Solomon, vp of digital ad products and services at Time Inc.
For all its roadblocks, there seems to be agreement that native advertising isn’t just the flavor of the month. In a recent survey, 73 percent of Online Publishers Association members said they offer native ads, with the potential to reach 90 percent by year’s end.