The FTC has spoken, and publishers listened - 50% now use “sponsored” to disclose branded content

Disclosure in branded content, and in turn the native placements which promote it, is a hot topic amongst brands, readers, and the publishers whose sites on which the branded content appears.

Polar examined 65 of our partner websites, containing 137 native ad placements and 67 unique styles within to present a comprehensive look at how publishers approach disclosure for branded content within native ad placements. With this research we can confidently present an industry first look at the State of Native Disclosure.

The first area we focused on was disclosure terms – the actual disclosure text that indicates a native ad is promoting an advertiser-paid piece of content.

Some examples include:

  • "Promoted by"
  • "Sponsored post"
  • "Brought to you by"
  • And several other variations

*Note: Not every native ad contained a disclosure label.

How often are certain disclosure terms used?

“Sponsored” is by far the most commonly used disclosure term amongst the surveyed publications.  It was seen 3 times as much as the next most popular term, “Promoted”. The remaining disclosure terms have largely the same frequency of usage.

In the chart above, “Other” refers to when a publisher’s custom branded content disclosure term does not fall into the disclosure terms listed in the visual below. For example, a publisher may have its own content marketing studio and includes the name of that studio as their disclosure term, such as Forbes’ BrandVoice.

Similarly, “None” refers to a situation where there is no formal disclosure term, as the publisher opts to use the brand’s name or logo instead.

Other important notes in when analysing the above chart:

  • Sponsored represents terms such as: “sponsor”, “sponsored content”, “sponsored post”, “from our sponsor” and any other combination.
  • Promoted represents terms such as “promoted content”, “promoted post” and any other combination.
  • Partner represents terms such as “partner content”, “in partnership with” and any other combination.
  • Advertisement represents terms such as“advertiser” and any other combination.

Disclosure term and CTR performance

Performance of different terms varied substantially. The disclosure term “promoted” (and all of it’s variants) had the best performance with a 0.19% CTR. This outperformed the disclosure term “presented” (0.12% CTR) by over 60 percent.

Promoted, Partner, and Sponsored all performed better than “None/Advertiser Mention (see definition above)”. While having no specific term does not necessarily hurt performance, those top three performing terms are giving some native placements a slight edge.

CTR performance on desktop and mobile

While on desktop, the term “sponsored” marginally outperformed “promoted” by approximately 26 percent. Mobile was a completely different story, where “promoted” dramatically outperformed “sponsored” by 105 percent. Depending on which device type a disclosure term is used on, the impact on CTR performance can vary.

Publisher Advice

Obviously, there are major headaches involved if a publisher tries to utilize several different disclosure terms for every campaign they run. Instead, they should be cognizant of what audience they and their brand partner are trying to reach.

As well, publishers need to consider A/B testing various combinations of disclosure terms and device types, to see which combinations performs best for their specific use cases.

Need to know more about best practices and measurement in native disclosure for your branded content program? Download the latest installment in Polar’s Thought Leadership Series: The State of Native Disclosure: How Premium Publishers Are Disclosing Native Promotions of Branded Content.