People generally like to know what they signed up for. No one likes to pour a glass of bourbon only to realize that it’s actually apple juice. Sure, a lot of people love apple juice. But what an off-putting surprise they’ll be in for when they sit down to enjoy their Old Fashioned only to realize it’s made of apple juice instead!
In the same way, no one really likes to read an article without knowing it was paid for by a brand. Though many people enjoy high-quality branded content, most prefer to know what it is and where it came from.
In the advertising industry, the Federal Trade Commission is responsible for providing guidelines to ensure consumers are able to make informed decisions. And in December 2015, the FTC published new guidelines to regulate the native advertising space so that sponsored, or branded, content is clearly labeled as such.
At Giant Media, we think this is not only fair to the audience, but also in the best interest of the advertiser, as it helps to build brand equity. We seek to create content that is so interesting, insightful, timely, authoritative and well written that the reader finishes the article with a fresh perspective on the brand that sponsored it.
So when the FTC released the new guidelines, we saw it as an opportunity for us to revisit our policy on disclosures. Our goals? Well, of course we wanted to be in compliance with the FTC. But it was also important that we use native advertising disclosures in a way that provides maximum benefit to our clients.
We began by analyzing the disclosures of some of the most well-respected publishers in the industry. Our branded editorial posts go on some great websites, so who better to follow than sites like The Washington Post and USA Today? Many such powerhouses interpreted the FTC’s guidelines in different ways, many of which are noteworthy.
But the main focus for each disclosure we reviewed was transparency. For example, USAToday.com uses the following language: “This content is provided and presented by our sponsor.” The language here seeks to make the financial background of the post clear to the consumer, but it also emphasizes that the brand itself created the content. The Washington Post’s disclosure includes the language: “The Washington Post newsroom is not involved in content production.” Again, this disclosure emphasizes that the newsroom was not responsible for the content. The transparency is obvious in these statements, and we wanted to mirror that in our language.
In addition to analyzing the disclosure language of major publishers and websites, we also researched the types of language most easily understood by the general public. In a 2015 study by Bartosz W. Wojdynski and Nathaniel J. Evans, it was found that the terms “sponsored” and “advertisement” led to a much higher likelihood of ad recognition. As a result, our branded editorial posts will now include the word “sponsored”, as we feel it provides the most transparency into our work.
But the language is only a part of the equation. There is also the issue of placement; where the disclosure is placed is highly important. After all, what difference does the language make if the reader never even sees it? And there are multiple types of placements we need to consider. The primary placement for a disclosure is on the page of the article. In keeping with the FTC’s guidelines, we have chosen to include our disclosure statement—“This post is sponsored by [brand name]”—directly under the headline of the article, in the same size font as the article. In addition, for further clarity, we will include the following statement at the bottom of the article: “This article was produced by [brand name] in collaboration with [publisher].”
However, the issue of placement doesn’t end there when you consider the life cycle of a piece of content. Many times, the reader has found the article through the homepage or a social media post, and so it’s important that these also have disclosures. When the headline of one of our branded articles appears apart from the full article on a publisher site, it will include the word “sponsored” at the end. In addition, all social media components will include the word “sponsored” or the hashtag #spon, whichever is most suitable to the channel.
By clearly labeling all of our branded content, we can be sure our readers are happily and willingly sitting down to enjoy each article we publish on behalf of an advertiser. And maybe they’ll be doing so with a nice, cold glass of apple juice in their hands. Or maybe it’ll be an Old Fashioned. Either way, they’ll know what they’re in for.