By Tylar Bloch

Advertising has evolved over the years, and the internet has ushered in a new era where ads can reach us 24/7 while tailoring to our individual tastes and experiences. But it’s gotten to a point where it can be hard to tell just exactly where an ad starts and stops. Known as native advertising, this practice of seamlessly incorporating sponsored materials into underlying content can conceal important clues that help us understand what is and is not an ad. The latest data shows that roughly 25% of all websites run native ads without any sponsorship disclaimer.

In one research study out of Stanford University, over 80% of surveyed students could not parse out paid content from a news article that was presented to them. Through improper ad disclosure and creative techniques where products or services are persuasively showcased without the typical ad speak, content creators are able to reach viewers more directly and bypass the stigma typically associated with ads. These practices are leading to greater consumer deception.

Fortunately, there are ways we can become more ads savvy and better identify sponsored content when consuming different kinds of media. Here are the top 3:

  1. Look out for keywords such as “paid” or “sponsored”. These can be displayed in small text windows, so it’s helpful to keep an eye for these small text disclosures when watching content, especially videos.
  2. Watch for explicit company and brand names that are referenced in a piece of content. Odds are that if a company or one of their products or services is being referred to in a positive light, they have paid for that content to be there.
  3. Pay attention to the author. When specific products and services are shared or reposted in your feed by individuals you don’t personally know, especially celebrities and influencers, you should consider whether that person has a vested interest in getting you to engage with those products or services.

As more and more user-generated content floods our feeds, we can be exposed to a wider range of improperly disclosed sponsored content, and it can be challenging to discern paid promotion from mere praise. Knowing whether a product or service promotion is sponsored content can help us make savvier decisions as both consumers and as voters in the digital age.

Conversation Starters:

  1. How many ads do you think you get exposed to each day?
  2. What kinds of products and services typically get marketed to you?
  3. How often do digital ads get you to buy their promoted products or services?
  4. When was the last time that you couldn’t tell whether or not you were seeing sponsored content?
  5. How does knowing that a promotion is sponsored content change the way you view the marketed product or service?


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