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Media credibility injured by native invasion? Not according to this survey

A recent survey from the Polytechnic of California, excitingly entitled “Native Advertising and Digital Natives: The Effects of Age and Advertisement Format on News Web Site Credibility Judgments” and published in ISOJ, the official journal of the International Symposium on Online Journalism, was fundamentally asking the question whether carrying ads disguised as content is eroding the credibility of the news media carrying them.

The basic methodology was to survey polytechnic students aged between 18-24, and a further set of respondents over the age of 45, 43% aged between 55-64, gathering attitudes on “advertiser-sponsored content that is designed to appear to the user as similar to editorial content”, or native advertising as we like to call it.

Faced with two static images in news website format, one including an ad in the standard banner style, the other a piece of native ad content. Both were real ads for real products. Respondents answered questions on their perception of the news website, including whether they noticed either of the ads.

Erik Sass, writing in the Media Daily News and reporting on the findings, concluded that the survey found very little impact on the website’s credibility, with only a 5% variation in response when considering the native versus banner ads.

More significantly perhaps, the analysis shows an interesting dichotomy between the responses of young and the older participants, which linked directly to the credibility of the new site at overall, though this was not associated with the native/banner content. Even though it is still early days for native advertising, especially in its on-line form, this bodes very well for the future, especially where readers didn’t realise they were reading sponsored copy.

Coming back to the question at the beginning, ‘well is it or isn’t it’ and putting aside that the survey was about whether it was damaging the news purveyors’ credibility, if we apply the question to whether the consumer has realised that the content they just enjoyed was sponsored content, ultimately it really doesn’t matter.

That surely is the whole point of native advertising. We go where the reader goes and we speak to them in their own language; we talk about the things that interest them because they interest us too and, along the way, they realise that actually we’re good people to do business with.

It’s 2014 and businesses have realised that if you’re not interested, and aren’t good people to do business with, you’re not going to survive anyway. From the subliminal TV advertising of the 1970s, the tacky give-away plastic flowers with every box of washing powder, to the products that bear no resemblance to the picture on the ads and packaging, every attempt to con the consumer has ended up with severe brand damage; often terminal.

More significant perhaps, the analysis shows an interesting dichotomy between the young and the old(er) responses regarding the credibility of the news-site overall; however this was not associated with the native/banner content.