Effect of Native Advertising on Credibility of News

Laptop open on a table with a page about Facebook ads pulled up in a browser; next to the computer is a glass, a mouse, and a pen

The digitization of news publishing has resulted in new ways for advertisers to reach readers, including native advertising formats that blend with news content. Though native ads bring revenue to publishers, they redirect attention off-site and may affect perceptions of the publisher. Using a combination of observations of ad content across many publishers and two large randomized experiments, we investigate the style and impact of a native ad format that is pervasive when reading news.

  • We collected and analyzed 1.4 million ad headlines.
  • Two randomized experiments (combined n=9,807) varied the native ads present in news articles and asked people to assess the articles’ credibility.
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  • We found that over 80 % of the ad headlines use a clickbait style, and that politics is among the most common topics in ads.
  • Experiment 1 suggested that different publishers were impacted differently by the ads and motivated the more detailed design of Experiment 2, which relied on contrasting ad sets that tested the effects of clickbait and political ads.
  • Findings from this pre-registered experiment established that clickbait ads and, to a lesser extent, political ads, significantly lower the readers’ perception of the articles’ credibility.
  • This phenomenon was found to be driven by publishers with which less than 50% of the audience is familiar.
  • These findings suggest that publishers that use clickbait native ads to ensure short-term financial revenues may diminish their audience’s trust.
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