Most advertisements are easy to spot. People quickly recognize them upon sight, and most likely tune them out without a second thought. However, sponsored content blends in with its surroundings so well that unless you look closely, you might never realize you’re looking at an ad.
Sponsored content is an advertisement for a product, service, or brand that is presented as an impartial news article or video. For instance, while reading online news, you may click an article about the condition of women's prisons.
But if you look closely above the illustration, the article turns out to be a disguised ad for a new TV show.
Sponsored content has become widespread online, from BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. It’s also prevalent on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
The concern is that sponsored content is so effective at blending in with its surroundings that many people can’t tell the difference between sponsored material and genuine objective content. According to one study in the United Kingdom, only 31% of 12-15 year olds could identify the advertisements in Google’s search results, while another study in the United States showed that more than 80% of high school and college students could not tell the difference between a sponsored ad and a legitimate news story.
Let's take a closer look at the byline of this article. You'll notice the article's content is provided by the Alzheimer's Association.
Check the byline of an article or the description of a video, and look for any language that could suggest the content has been paid for. Sites based in the United States are required to add a notice if content has been paid for by an outside company. However, it may be worded in a strange way, like Paid Post, Content from... or Brand Publisher.
The notice may also be disguised within the article or tucked into the fine print. In the image below, you have to read carefully to see the article has been sponsored by Spotify.
Sponsored content isn’t necessarily bad, but you should know when you’re reading something that might not be totally clear about its intentions. As long as you remember to look closely at the details, you should be fine.