Blog Lisette Kruizinga-de Vries – Methodologist
A couple of years ago, DVJ Insights collected data for a study on the effects of native advertising. Now, after some years, the article written about the study has been published in the Journal of Media Studies. Bianca Harms, part-time PhD student at the University of Groningen – which DVJ Insights works closely together with – conducted the study for her dissertation on the effectiveness of online branded content, in comparison with banner advertising. This blog contains a summary of the article by Harms, Bijmolt & Hoekstra.
The article describes that marketers spend most of their money on online advertising. Online display being the fastest grower in the segment, which includes banners, online video and social. However, since most people avoid online banners, marketers started to invest in new forms of online advertising, like online branded content, also called native advertising. Native advertising is a more subtle form of online advertising, since it looks like content of the publisher.
The great man drives a Cadillac
Native advertising is not something new. So, I went ahead and looked at some examples. I found one from 1915, when Cadillac came out with this sponsored article in the Saturday Evening Post, as seen in Figure 1. Of course, there is no mention of Cadillac in the text, but the man who is a great man, drives a Cadillac. Also, native radio advertising has been around since the 1920s when brands started to sponsor radio programmes.
Native advertising online has also been around for quite some time and is clearly evolving over the years. In the early days of Facebook, brands had the opportunity to develop pages for their brands, where they could place different brand posts.
Separate divisions for branded content
Now, let’s get back to the article. It describes that nowadays, popular forms of online native advertising are for example sponsored Facebook posts, paid search ads or branded content articles. Especially investments in the latter are still increasing and online platforms such as the New York Times, Forbes (or Dutch equivalents like NRC) now have separate divisions in place for such type of branded content articles.
Figures 2 and 3 provide two examples of the tested content. The content is tested on real webpages to make the study as realistic as possible. In total, six different branded content articles and six different online banners are tested. The ads feature brands from – among others – the car industry, retail, and a brewery.
On the one hand, Persuasion Knowledge Theory can explain why branded content will be evaluated more positively than online banners. For branded content articles, the branding of the article is often subtle, so consumers do not recognise that it is advertising, which leads to a more positive attitude towards the brand. On the other hand, the Heuristic Systematic Model can explain why branded content will be evaluated more negatively than online banners. This model states that defence goals get evoked when people realise they are confronted with persuasive messages (i.e., advertising). When people perceive the article as misleading or deceptive and thus realise the article actually is advertising, they feel fooled, which could consequently lead to more negative perceptions toward branded content.
The results seem to confirm the latter theory. Banners perform better than branded content with respect to message intent, which seems intuitive since the brand (message) is more clearly visible on banners. It is also found that banners lead to more positive brand effects than branded content articles. Banners are evaluated more positively and as more credible. Finally, attitude towards the ad, understanding of the message intent and ad credibility are positively related to purchase intent and interest toward the brand. These results might be explained by the fact that some years ago, when this study was conducted, much negative publicity surrounded these ‘deceptive’ branded content articles. Therefore, consumers feel fooled, this defence mechanism is activated which leads to more negative evaluations of the branded content.
Familiar with the idea
Now, let’s look at where consumers stand a couple years after the study. Whereas consumers felt fooled in the early days of branded content articles, nowadays consumers are much more familiar with branded content articles and are aware of the fact that they are just a different form of advertising. Also, in the creative design of the articles, we see quite a difference nowadays compared to the early days (see Figure 4). It remains vital that you as a brand want to attract attention and stand out from the clutter with your article, which is just as important as with other forms of advertising.
Just another form of advertising
We do see in the studies DVJ Insights conducts, positive effects of branded content on the brand funnel, brand associations as well as brand image, for example. Of course, it remains vital to just not post any type of branded content articles online but test them among your target group and examine how they are evaluated. Only with well-executed branded content articles you will be able to stand out and attract attention. In the end, it is just another form of advertising. So, you don’t fool me?
Note: This blog contains a summary of the article by Harms, Bijmolt & Hoekstra entitled “You don’t fool me! Consumer perceptions of digital native advertising and banner advertising” published in 2019 in the Journal of Media Business Studies.