Native advertising is clearly booming.

Warc recently published figures showing that, by 2020, €13 billion will be spent on native advertising in Europe. Native shall occupy a 52% share in the total display market by 2020.

Most people do not mind sponsored content, but it needs to be clearly indicated.
Most people do not mind sponsored content, but it needs to be clearly indicated.

This should not come as a surprise, since both advertisers and media prefer this form of advertising — where the advertisement is based on content that is completely in line with the medium or the platform where it is shown.

In the meantime, several impact studies show a positive effect of native advertising on brand image, product awareness, purchase intention, and likeability.

But how far can advertisers and media go without affecting the trust of consumers and readers? A fine balance between effective advertising and ethically responsible content is a necessity in the booming narrative of native advertising.

In this context, the University of Antwerp and De Persgroep Advertising joined forces to investigate factors that influence reader experiences in native advertising.

The University of Antwerp has been researching this way of advertising for some time already. However, by testing the effect of a real advertisement on readers of the news medium, concrete recommendations can be made for future campaigns.

The experiment

For this study, an online experiment was set up for visitors of by the University of Antwerp. For the tests, the investigators used an existing native article that was adapted on the basis of six experimental conditions measuring the effect of brand prominence and label position.

The participants were randomly given one of the six adapted native articles. The brand prominence in the article was either high (several references were made to the brand) or low (the brand was only referred to once).

The article further contained a label at the top, a label in the middle, or two labels (one at the top and one in the middle of the article). The label was described as “brought to you by ....”

The effect of the different conditions was measured on the basis of several criteria: the image and appreciation of the brand, the trust in the news medium, the assessment of the article, and brand recall.

The results discussed here were reweighted to the profile of visitors of

Lessons learned from the study

  • Do not talk about yourself too much.

    If a brand is explicitly mentioned several times in the text or label, there is a bigger chance the reader will remember the brand. However, advertisers have to make sure not to talk too much about themselves. A high brand prominence ensures a higher brand recall in the short term, but can simultaneously have a negative impact on the image and appreciation of the brand and medium.

    The experiment of by the University of Antwerp shows if the brand prominence is low, readers are more positive about the article, the medium, and the brand itself than in the case of a high brand presence.

    With a lower brand prominence compared to a higher brand prominence, readers considered the text to be more honest (79% vs 66%), more credible (79% vs 69%), more fun (75% vs 64%), and more convincing (72% vs 55%).

    With a lower brand presence, the brand itself was evaluated as being more attractive, better, more pleasant, more positive, and more fun. The trust in the medium was also higher (72% vs 63%).

  • Use a clear label.

    Clear labeling stating who is offering the content of the article is an absolute must to maintain the trust of consumers and readers. Especially in the case of a low brand presence, it is important to provide clear labelling to make it obvious to the reader that this is a sponsored article.

    The experiment demonstrated that adding the label “brought to you by ...” both at the top and in the middle of the article has the best effect on reader appreciation, not only of the medium and the article, but also of the brand. The use of clear labels offers advertisers the possibility to expose their brands in a positive way without prejudice to their credibility.

  • The majority of readers do not find native advertising disturbing.

    Half of the readers do not have a problem with native articles on the condition they clearly indicate this is sponsored content. Another 27% claim to look first at the content of the article, whether or not it is sponsored. And 8% have no problem with it at all. Only 14% find this type of article very annoying.

    A low brand prominence in combination with a label both at the top and in the middle of the text attains the best appreciation scores from readers and consumers. Advertisers who use native advertising smartly and are not afraid to evaluate their long-term goals shall undoubtedly have great success with their native campaigns.

For the media, well-made native campaigns can also mean interesting content for their readers.