Scrolling through social feeds has become a favorite pastime for many of us over the years, and that fact is not lost on advertisers one bit. Whether you’ve realized or not, at some point or another you’ve almost certainly come across sponsored content online. These branded posts are supposed to identify themselves to you, like denoting “Sponsored” or “Brought to you by X” or “Promoted” or a host of other synonymous language—sometimes they are not, which you can read more about here. Conscious or unconscious aside though, with all this exposure to sponsored content, we wanted to understand how consumers felt about it. We knew from a 2014 study by Contently that the key findings largely indicated mistrust and frustration from consumers when reading paid posts. What kind of difference does three years later make? Well, in March of 2017, we posed a series of questions to over 2,000 U.S. consumers to get their thoughts on the matter of sponsored content now. Here’s what we found:
Just because a brand has paid for content doesn’t mean they’re off the hook from having it be useful to readers. When content provided helpful information, 33 percent of consumers felt neutral and 34 percent did not mind the sponsored nature. Brands should develop sponsored content to be informative and beneficial to audiences, not some blatant sales pitch. Using food as an example, recipes and alternative usage occasions are great instances of providing content that goes far beyond the product itself. Maybe someone is just starting to cook their own meals and needs recipe suggestions for quick, easy options—influencers can weave a narrative to show not only how a product fits into their lives, but also help others as well.
Even if your content provides good information, presentation still matters. To that point, the actual content needs to be up to par also. Think carefully about both what your content is saying as well as how it is being said. We learned over 32 percent of consumers were neutral when asked if they didn’t care whether content was sponsored so long as it was high quality. Nearly 37 percent of consumers believed that quality of content negated the sponsored aspect. Quality is a cornerstone of compelling content, which is especially valuable when you’re looking to motivate purchase behavior. Sponsored content is essentially like any other form of advertising in that regard—poorly done traditional ads on TV, online or wherever don’t typically elicit much call to action response and neither does low-quality sponsored content.
While promoted posts have the potential to benefit consumers through informative, high-quality or otherwise engaging content, the underlying benefit for brands to convert sales is no mystery. Our findings indicate that just over 30 percent of all U.S. consumers have made a purchase decision based on sponsored content. Of that group, Millennials proved to be the most receptive to spending as one in three people in this demographic reported having bought something because of seeing a sponsored post. Digital natives and native advertising clearly go quite well together. There is an obvious sales conversion taking place for an advertising medium that has long proven to be more effective than traditional display ad formats—according to Solve Media, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. Given that only about 22 percent of businesses are satisfied with their conversion rates, they may want to consider deploying or improving their own sponsored content program.
Only 9 percent of consumers strongly agreed to the immediate dismissal of sponsored content, and to keep this stat from rising, brands must be focused on creating the best content possible. Despite any skepticism or negative perception around branded content, it does have the potential to positively impact the bottom line.