Does Anyone Actually Trust Sponsored Content?

If you’ve decided to give content marketing a try, chances are you want to achieve one main goal: to get people to trust your brand and hopefully become lifelong customers. It’s a beautiful dream.

However, it’s no secret that behind the scenes, many businesses struggle with developing and executing a sustainable, effective content marketing strategy. For whatever reason (lack of time, lack of resources, lack of talented employees, etc.), they just don’t have the power to create compelling content.

As a result, many companies have resorted to sponsored content to get them in the game—but it may not be effective at building trust and capturing the hearts of new customers.

According to a recent study released by Contently, audiences don’t trust sponsored content as much as we think and hope they do. When study participants were asked how much they trusted sponsored content, only five percent said they generally trusted what they read or watched, while 54 percent said they didn’t trust it at all.

Readers were, however, more likely to trust sponsored content if they knew the publication or if they already trusted the brand.

Even if a reader read an entire article without knowing it was sponsored, everything changed once they found out. According to the survey, two-thirds of respondents said they’ve felt deceived when realizing a piece of content was sponsored by a brand.

How can this be?

One of the biggest issues lies in the fact that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding what “sponsored content” actually means.

According to the survey, 12 percent of respondents thought “sponsored content” meant the sponsor wrote the article; 20 percent thought it meant that the sponsor paid for content that was written by the news site; 48 percent thought the sponsor paid for and influenced the article; and 18 percent thought it meant a sponsor simply paid for its name to appear next to content.

And it probably doesn’t help that the label changes with almost every publication, either. Articles that are associated with a specific brand might also be referred to or labelled as native advertisements, paid posts, or brand posts (ala Buzzfeed).

Unfortunately, the ambiguity then influences the the readers’ perceptions of the brand’s transparency and honesty, making it even harder for readers to trust the brand behind the article.

But at least a sponsored post is better than a lame banner ad, right?

Not exactly. What’s even more shocking is that the majority of customers would rather see a branded banner ad than a sponsored post—which extremely interesting, considering the fact that banner ads have a lousy click-through rate of one percent.

So what does this all mean?

Despite the overwhelmingly negative public opinion, we can’t declare that sponsored content is a complete waste of time (yet). Who knows how it might change for the better down the road (which the Times has already shown to be a possibility)?

But for now, consider what you hope to get out of native advertising before signing up for it. If trust is what you want, you may need to take a different approach. Besides, you can’t go wrong with a good ol’ fashioned blog.

Image from Success Communications Group.