Branded Content Moves the Needle, Per Forbes

Study finds tactic raises purchase intent, favorability

Branded content, or its hyped cousin, native advertising, is supposed to combat ad fatigue when consumers are bombarded with ads all day, everywhere. The problem is measuring effectiveness. With no agreement on how to measure native (much less how to define it), it’s no surprise that publishers are eager to prove that native advertising, with its promise of premium rates, works.

Thus comes a new study by IPG Media Lab and commissioned by Forbes Media that’s hoping to make the case for the format. IPG surveyed 2,259 participants from and showed them Web pages from the site containing branded content from ads in three verticals (auto, liquor and financial services).

Those looking at pages with branded content were 41 percent more likely to express an intent to buy the brand versus those who saw a regular Web page with no branded content. Similarly, those who saw branded content were 28 percent more likely to have a favorable view of the brand, the research, which IPG is publishing later today, showed.

Mark Howard, CRO of Forbes Media, said the study's major takeaway for him was that the findings about how branded content can change a brand's perception complement the traditional publishing metrics that Forbes uses in measuring the campaigns using its 3-year-old BrandVoice platform.

“It begins to answer that question, 'how well does branded content work for brands to be able to forge a relationship with an audience?' and 'how does that dialogue begin to shift perceptions?'" Howard said. "We know it has impact, but we haven’t been able to quantify it before."

The study also considered native advertising in its different iterations. When consumers saw branded content that was paired with a display ad from the same brand, they were more likely to recall the brand than if they had looked at a page that had branded content with no display ad at all.

Interestingly, though, adding a display ad to a page that had branded content didn't help with purchase intent. Howard believes that might be because the brands measured (Chrysler, Woodford Reserve and Charles Schwab) are in categories where the path to purchase is long. 

The study also looked at attitudes towards branded content depending on where it's published. In a finding that will likely encouragement to publishers all over, the study showed that readers were 41 percent more likely to share branded content when they read it on versus on the brand's own site.

It's tempting to conclude that content, even branded, is seen by readers as more trusted and shareworthy if it originated on a premier publisher's site versus a brand's. But did those sharing branded content from know it was created by the brand as opposed to Forbes editorial staff? (Some publishers, Forbes included, have been accused of confusing readers by dressing up ads as editorial content.)

Howard admitted it’s possible, as survey participants weren’t expressly told that the content came from the brand, “but we go to great lengths to make sure it’s all transparently labeled on the site.”