In the past years, many news companies have started to offer native advertising to their clients as a more engaging, tailored way to help advertisers reach large audiences. Several news outlets have set up complete studios for producing native advertisement, and for some outlets, native advertising has become the most important revenue stream.
On the advertisers’ side, publishing native ads on news websites not only increases eyeballs for the content, brands might also benefit from readers’ trust in the news outlet.
Current native advertising practices in news outlets still greatly vary.
Nevertheless, there are still many questions left when it comes to implementing native ads in a manner that’s the most effective, and at the same time does not harm readers’ trust in the news outlet.
Current native advertising practices in news outlets still greatly vary, some more successful than others.
Debates around labels
Debates around native advertising on news websites might have been stronger compared to other media contexts, especially when it comes to clearly labelling the editorially designed in-feed articles.
Without a doubt, preserving news media’s credibility is key to both news media and advertisers, since credibility, autonomy and trustworthiness are the main reasons for readers to visit news platforms. Advertisers are also taking benefit of publishing on credible news platforms, as this credibility could spill-over on readers’ evaluations of their advertisements.
Therefore, native advertisements should be thoughtfully implemented.
In the native advertising for the news industry trends report of 2016, the majority of the news publishers indicated that they consider clear labelling of the native ads as highly important.
Nonetheless, still, 7% of the news publishers did not label the native advertisements at all. And even when native advertisements include a clear label, the wordings of the label still greatly vary among different news websites.
Are they afraid that these wordings harm readers’ evaluations?
Most strikingly: simple wordings such as “advertisement” or “sponsored by brand X” are still often being avoided, despite the fact that it has been proven that these wordings are by far the most effective. It seems that there’s still some fear among some advertisers and/or publishers to use these kinds of explicit wordings. Are they afraid that these wordings harm readers’ evaluations?
What are the effects of label recognition and involvement?
This academic study investigated the effects of label recognition, together with readers’ involvement with the article’s subject, on their evaluations of both the advertisement and the news website.
Moreover, the study also focused on whether these factors influence readers’ evaluations of native advertising in general. The study has been conducted in a real-life context. 277 readers of a Belgian national news website were invited to participate an online study focused on the news website.
Among all participants, 28.8% indicated that they had noticed the label “sponsored by Samsung”.
We did not tell them in advance that they would be presented one of the native advertisements of the news website. After measuring readers’ evaluations, a short text explained the actual purpose of the study.
Label- and ad recognition
Among all participants, 28.8% indicated that they had noticed the label “sponsored by Samsung”. Ad recognition was significantly higher among readers who had noticed the label. However, seeing the label did not increase readers’ understanding of who the author of the native advertisement was.
Although readers who recognised a label were more likely to recognise the article as an advertisement, they did not differ with readers who did not recognise the label in their judgments that the text was produced by a journalist.
Does label recognition harm readers’ ad evaluations?
Not at all. Label- and ad recognition did not negatively influence readers’ evaluations of the ad.
Moreover, when it comes to readers’ evaluations of the advertising technique in general, readers who indicated that they had noticed a label considered native advertising in general as more acceptable and less misleading.
What about involvement?
Readers’ involvement with the article’s subject was positively related to their evaluations of native advertising in many ways. Higher interest in the topic of the article (virtual reality) was related to more positive evaluations of the advertisement, which could be expected.
Yet, more surprisingly, this involvement also led to more positive evaluations of the advertising technique in general. Thus positive experiences with native advertising might spill over on readers’ evaluations of other native advertisements.
Adding a clear label is even more important when readers are highly involved with the topic of the article.
Consequences for the news website
In this study we did not find a relationship between label- and ad recognition and credibility of the news website. Yet label recognition did interact with involvement, showing that under high involvement label recognition led to higher perceived news credibility, whereas under low involvement there was a small negative effect.
This means that adding a clear label is even more important when readers are highly involved with the topic of the article. Nevertheless, all readers who had noticed a label had positive evaluations of the news website’s credibility.
Three key takeaways for implementing native advertisements on news websites
The key findings of these study were the positive effects of both label recognition and high involvement on readers’ ad evaluations. The fact that the majority of news readers still thought that the text was written by a journalist, even when they recognised it as advertising, is worrying.
Therefore, the results of the suggest the following three actions for implementing native advertising on news websites:
1. Add a label. It does not harm advertising effectiveness, and readers consider labeled native
advertisement in general as more effective and less misleading.
2. Moreover, add not only a label that indicates that the content is sponsored, but also a byline that states no editorial staff has been involved in creating the article. See example below from ForbesBrandvoice:
3. As involvement turned out to be positively related to many aspects of readers’ evaluations, it is recommended to implement native advertisements especially in special-interest categories of news websites (such as cars, healthy living and travel). Although it may be the case that less readers visit these special interest categories compared to the home page or broader categories, it is more likely that the content matches the readers’ interest, and highly involved readers are likely to respond more positively towards the native advertisements.
Krouwer, S., & Poels, K. (2017). Article or Ad? Readers’ Recognition and Evaluations of Native Advertisements on Online News Websites. In V. Žabkar & M. Eisend (Eds.).