09 April 2015

Native Advertising: What Editors Don't Know

Branded and sponsored content (native advertising) is one of the hottest and most controversial areas of online news. This year the Reuters Institute Digital News Report focuses on the dilemmas it poses for news organisations.

Nic Newman, Research Associate at the Reuters Institute, Oxford University, will be speaking about the report that he edited at the GEN Summit this year in June. In this interview, Nic tells us more about what to expect:

Why sponsored content?

Everyone has been talking about the potential of sponsored content to open up new revenue lines for traditional and digital-born news companies – but until now there has been little public research about consumer attitudes and some of the potential pitfalls.

So, as just one part of our comprehensive multi-country study into the news industry, we’ve also commissioned some detailed research into native advertising in the United States and the United Kingdom – two countries where the practice is growing fastest. This involved asking a series of survey questions and also online focus groups - where we were able to probe more deeply.

 Buzz feed

Snapshot of sponsored content on BuzzFeed

What can we expect?

We’ll be revealing the full results at the GEN Summit in Barcelona but you won’t be surprised to hear that we found significant confusion around the different types of branded and sponsored content and around the way it is labelled on sites and within apps. We’ve got some clear recommendations on that and on the type of content areas to steer clear of.

How much awareness is there of sponsored content and native advertising?

More people than we expected had seen this kind of content. Working with our polling partner YouGov, we used passive trackers to identify people who had viewed different types of sponsored content ranging from a New York Times paid post on female incarceration (sponsored by Netflix to promote 'Orange is the New Black'), plus examples from The Guardian, Forbes and Buzzfeed. We then asked them about their perceptions of the content the brand and the news organisation that had showcased the content.

Women Inmates

Example of native advertising

What are the key issues for the news industry?

The main issues lie around the potential for deception and damage to the brand (this could be the advertiser or the news brand). These are clearly early days but it is true that native advertising will only be successful if consumers are clear about the source of an item and that the content itself is relevant and engaging to them.

All this against a backdrop of increased dissatisfaction with the amount and nature of advertising online. Like many other surveys, we will also be picking up on and revealing startlingly high levels of ad blocking in the UK and the US, particularly around the young.

What else can we expect from this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report?

We’ve polled in more countries this year than ever. There are now 12 core countries including the addition of Australia and Ireland. Key themes include the progress of paid news in all those countries, the rise of video and other new visual and social formats, the growth of social networks as platforms for news consumption - and the growth of new international brands like the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed as well as local startups across Europe.

We’ve also been digging much deeper into the way different social networks and messaging applications are used for news around the world. For example, Snapchat is largely an American phenomenon while WhatsApp is huge in Brazil, Spain, Italy and Germany.

We’ll also be further developing an interactive module on our website digitalnewsreport.org where you can play with the data and compare one country against another.


The Reuters Institute is part of the University of Oxford. The Digital News Report is supported by Google, BBC, Ofcom, The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BIA), France Télévisions, L’Espresso group in Italy, the Media Industry Research Foundation of Finland, Edelman UK, as well as academic sponsors and partners at Roskilde University Denmark, the Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg, the University of Navarra, Spain, The Tow Center at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Canberra in Australia.