People Don’t Trust Sponsored Content. Surprised?

[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.] Ever met a really good salesperson? Never? C’mon, think hard. How about the kid at the store who took you right to the coffee maker you needed. Or, the lawn guy who just happened to show up on the day you moved in. But they weren’t really selling, you say […]

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[Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.]

Ever met a really good salesperson? Never? C’mon, think hard. How about the kid at the store who took you right to the coffee maker you needed. Or, the lawn guy who just happened to show up on the day you moved in. But they weren’t really selling, you say — simply directing you to what you already wanted?

Now how about a really bad salesperson? The guy who tries to sell you insurance at your kid’s PTA meeting. Or the one who invites you to an ‘informational dinner’ on investments and tries to close you before desert.

For some reason, we’ve collectively decided that sales has something to do with people trying to convince us to buy something we don’t want. Nonsense. That’s coercion. Selling is about connecting people to companies, products and services that could actually be of benefit to that person. Always has been.

A similar, but different problem persists for advertising. For some reason, we’ve decided that ads that actually look like ads, are inherently ‘bad.’ And so, we’ve embarked on a decades-long attempt to disguise our advertising (sales) message. Through entertainment. Through infomercials. And more recently, through sponsored content and/or native advertising, if you prefer.

Problem is, most sponsored content and/or native advertising is — at its core — selling under false pretense. An attempt to fool you through journalistic curiosity. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Interestingly, the same people that have been telling us for years that “people are too smart to fall for advertising” somehow believe that these same smart people are now dumb enough to fall for advertising dressed another way. A confusing argument, to say the least.

Sure, there is well-crafted sponsored content that doesn’t necessarily fall into this debate. But most of it…well, you can see coming from a mile away. According to Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, only 24 percent of readers scroll down on native ad content on publisher sites, compared to the 71 percent of readers who scroll on “normal content.” (Read the entire article from Contently, here.)

But what of well-crafted advertising? (Too little of it exists these days…but that’s another topic.) Yes, I know, it’s no longer fashionable to support advertising. There is a collective sentiment that says it’s outdated, doesn’t work, etc., etc. You may have even formed your own arguments against advertising.

But here’s one that supports it: Advertising makes no pretense about what it is. It’s the salesperson who doesn’t shield their title, or intent. The very best advertising, like the very best salesperson, tells you upfront it has something that might be of value and then proceeds to tell, show and persuade you why — of all the choices available — ‘this is the one you need.

The ad that proudly screams, “I am an ad,” may have lost favor, but not its honesty of purpose. Nor its value. The ad that does this AND provides relevant, useful information someone can use, is still of tremendous value.

Arguably, given the current landscape of questionable integrity, more value than ever before.


Brian Creath is the president and strategy director of Cohesion., a nationally recognized St. Louis-based brand agency. He has helped hundreds of businesses and brands achieve success in a 30-year career. Read more of Brian’s point-of-view, here. Email him at bcreath@cohesioncompany.com.

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