Does Your Content Pass the Consumer Smell Test?

As marketers continue to blur the line between advertisement and content, consumers are reacting in ways that may actually hurt brand perception and damage reputation. In essence, if it walks like content and talks like content — but is really an ad — consumers will see right through it and probably never visit your site or go to your Facebook page again.
In a survey done by Harris Interactive for MediaBrix, the majority of online adults who have seen advertising that appears as content in the past 12 months say that it’s misleading, and leaves a negative impression. At best, it left no impression at all.
“This study validates that people respond best to authenticity in advertising no matter the format. With the recent buzz around ‘native’ ad formats, I think we need to carefully consider best practices,” said Ari Brandt, CEO for MediaBrix. “While anyone pushing the native ad agenda or otherwise would agree that we need to provide user experiences that are not jarring or disruptive, we also need to ensure that we are direct and honest with consumers about when they are being marketed to. Some formats achieve this better than others.”
The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of MediaBrix from October 2-4, 2012 among 2,516 adults ages 18 and older. It focused on ads that appear as part of content across print, television and digital channels. Of those who responded,  62 percent said Twitter promoted tweets negatively impacted or had no impact on their perception of the brand being advertised; 57 percent said the same about Facebook stories. A whopping 86 percent also said that video ads disguised as content on Facebook negatively impacted or had no impact on their perception of the advertised brand. On the print side, a 66 percent also found “advertorials” to be misleading.
Performance Takeaways
–Make your content relevant and transparent
–Content should never be used to disguise an advertisment
–Try integrating your advertising as value-add experiences alongside content and user experience
That consumer opinion may be making marketers a bit balky at using these social media advertising tools, however. A study by Chief Marketer revealed that just 20 percent of marketers surveyed considered  Facebook Sponsored Stories among their favorite advertising tools, behind event promotions, targeted posts, display ads and the log-in screen.
For Ketty Colom, social media specialist for ActivEngage, it’s all about being real. “Transparency is the key to content marketing. “Tell the truth, get brand advocates, and admit your weaknesses,” said Colom. “We’re human — show us you’re human too.”
Transparency Holds the Key
But if transparent content that holds no sales agenda is what consumers want, how does a marketer develop ads that catch a shopper’s eye, engages and leaves them with a brand or product takeaway? According to MediaBrix, that answer starts with relevance and integrated creativity. Recent studies by the company show clearly that consumers prefer relevant, interactive in-app social and mobile advertising, as well as advertising that adds an actual value exchange — think the gamification of tasks and objectives as a part of the overall digital experience. This type of marketing creates a clear division between content and ad, while at the same time creating value for the advertising in its own right — in fact, as a support component to good content and creative output.
For companies thinking about ways to engage followers and shoppers on site and social networks, the lesson is to be mindful of ads that mimic content. Play it straight, and create valuable content without the sales pitch. At the same time, work to make your advertising part of a valuable experience, from user experience to mobile apps. Most of all, by being relevant and transparent, shoppers will appreciate the content and the experience — whether it sells something or not. That in itself is a successful online encounter.
Source: ActivEngage, MediaBrixeMarketer, image courtesy of eMarketer
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