Consumers Can’t Tell The Difference Between Sponsored Content And Editorial

In a new study, consumers identified native advertisements as articles a large percentage of the time.


No matter what kinds of disclosures or design tweaks sponsored articles receive on leading online publications, consumers continue to confuse sponsored content (aka native advertisements) with actual articles, according to the latest survey from Contently.

Sponsored content is fundamentally designed to blend in with the look and feel of the other articles on a site, and actual written disclosures such as “Sponsored” or “Advertisement” are often hard to see even if you’re looking for them. So is it any wonder consumers can’t tell the difference between content that brands pay for and regular articles?

Contently surveyed 509 consumers ages 18 and up, showing them one online brand sponsored piece from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Altantic, The Onion, BuzzFeed or Forbes or an actual article on Whole Foods in Fortune.

In four out of the six groups shown a native advertisement, a strong majority said they thought the ad was an article.consumers confuse native ad content for articles

The survey found that respondents were more likely to identify native ads as articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed than those who were shown the actual article in Fortune.

You can see screenshots of the articles including the disclosures on the Contently blog.

Generally, respondents said they were less likely to trust sites that publish brand sponsored content, but that’s not all that surprising that most would answer that way when asked pointedly.

That said, the study also showed that native ads can lift brand approval. Of those exposed to the Miracle-Gro ad on BuzzFeed — the highest rated ad in terms of quality, with 55 percent giving it a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent quality and 1 being very poor quality — 30 percent said it made them trust the brand more.

(Some images used under license from


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