Sponsored Content vs. Traditional Advertising

3 Key Findings From Invoke’s Latest Invoke Live Webinar

3 Key Findings From Invoke’s Latest Invoke Live Webinar

Reaching potential consumers, customers, and viewers is getting harder and harder for brands these days. Advertising has always been a living, breathing animal constantly evolving. But these days, consumers are dictating this evolution more than ever, constantly coming up with new ways to avoid advertising and stop companies from talking to them – from DVRs to streaming content to ad blockers.

Sponsored Content has become a way for companies to organically reach out to their consumers and customers organically and bypass a good chunk of consumer-driven ad avoidance strategies and technologies (including ad blockers.) Sponsored content is meant to feel less like an ad and more like a piece of content that a user might come across online or in their social media feed and should inform, educate, and/or entertain rather than “hard sell.” 

But when it comes down to it, how does Sponsored Content stack up against traditional advertising?

Recently, I conduced an Invoke Live webinar with my colleague Jennafer Stahl where we talked to just under 150 people in real-time to understand how Sponsored Content performs in comparison to traditional advertising across a number of industries.

During that session, our respondents were shown a total of 4 different pieces of content – either a type of Sponsored Content OR a traditional advertisement from 4 different brands spanning multiple industries (CPG, services, media). And each piece of Sponsored Content represented a specific type:

  • Sponsored How-to’s – How-To’s are exactly what they sound like – recipes, crafts, DIY videos, etc. that give instruction on how to cook, make, construct, etc. using a specific brand. For this session, we showed a recipe video incorporating King’s Hawaiian rolls (and the other half saw a traditional 30-second King’s Hawaiian video ad.)
  • Sponsored Storytelling – These pieces of content are often designed to entertain and/or inform through the use of stories. While the brand is present in some way, it often takes a backseat to the story being told. For this session, we showed a video where a couple talks about making use of home furnishings and storage solutions from IKEA to make the most of a small space (and the other half saw a traditional 30-second IKEA video ad.)
  • Sponsored Review – A Sponsored Review plays like a typical review in that someone (often a known entity, but not always) offers up their thoughts on the brand, product, service, film, etc. The difference is they make it clear they are being paid by the brand they are reviewing to provide their thoughts. For this session, we showed a video of WWE Diva Nikki Bella providing a sponsored review of the meal service Hello Fresh (and the other half saw a traditional 30-second Hello Fresh video ad.
  • Influencer Video – An Influencer Video is a video featuring a celebrity or social media influencer talking about a specific product, service, film etc. The videos can sometimes be reviews, but they can also be announcement videos, discussion videos, or other pieces of dialogue-driven content. For this session, we showed a video of Tom Holland announcing his upcoming Disney/Pixar film Onward (and the other half saw a traditional 1 minute, 43 second trailer for the film.)

So what did we learn during this session? We learned a lot, actually. But the three main points I want to focus on for this blog post are:

  1. Sponsored content works best when it’s informational or educational.
  2. Paid influencers encourage cynicism; traditional advertising may be seen as more trustworthy.
  3. Movie trailers still excel in inspiring action, especially Word of Mouth

Sponsored content works best when it’s informational or educational

Looking at the table below, its clear that two pieces of Sponsored Content – the How-To and Storytelling videos – perform best out of the four types tested. Both perform at parity or better with their traditional ad counterparts across all key measures. The How-To video from King’s Hawaiian scores significantly higher than the traditional ad on positively impacting likelihood of purchase (an obviously important measure) and on encouraging consumers to search online for more information. Which I would assume is not something people often do when it comes to rolls. I mean, I do on account of my obsession with sandwiches. But not most normal people.

Table – Sponsored Content vs. Traditional Advertising Performance on Key Measures (Top 2 Box, Letters indicate a significantly higher performance)

Table – Sponsored Content vs. Traditional Advertising Performance on Key Measures (Top 2 Box, Letters indicate a significantly higher performance)

Interestingly, both of these pieces of Sponsored Content showcase usages for the product they are promoting. The How-To video gives step-by-step instructions on how to make sliders using King’s Hawaiian rolls and the Sponsored Storytelling video, as mentioned, talks about a couple making use of IKEA furniture and storage solutions to make the most of a small living space.

A typical survey may just leave us there, trying to look for similarities between the two higher-performing videos to understand why they are performing so well in comparison to the other pieces of content. But thankfully, in this Invoke session we also used some open-end lines of questioning to understand what was driving performance of each piece of content.

And in both cases, consumers very often mention being shown uses for the products as positives of both the How-To and Storytelling videos:

What do you like about the video you just saw?

“I enjoyed watching how to make a snack/meal out of the roll. All the various ingredients and the final output.” (Sponsored How-To)

“I was so impressed that IKEA could make a cohesive design look while simultaneously reducing clutter, all with a great price.” (Sponsored Storytelling)

And further emphasizing this point is that, in the case of the two lower-performing sponsored pieces of content, the lack of information or exposition in each video is mentioned alongside other elements as negatives of the video.

What do you dislike about the video you just saw?

“…You really didn’t see her do anything except serve up the meal.  It’s not as easy and she makes it.” (Sponsored Review)

“Not enough information, I can’t recall what the name of the movie he is going to be in.” (Influencer Video)

Paid influencers encourage cynicism; traditional advertising may be seen as more authentic or trustworthy

Looking at that table above, it’s clear that both the Sponsored Review and Influencer Video are the lowest-performing pieces of Sponsored Content. These two pieces of content score not only significantly lower than their traditional advertising counterparts on a number of key measures, they also score lower on a number of these measures as compared to every other piece of content tested, both sponsored and traditional.

One measure I think is especially important to look at here is Trust. As companies look at Sponsored Content, trust should be a primary consideration. A primary goal of Sponsored Content is to feel native to ones’ online or social media experience and not feel like a sales pitch. In order to effectively do that, the content needs to communicate a sense of authenticity or trust.

Take a look at this chart, breaking out the Trust measure (Top 2 Box – Trust Very Much/Trust Somewhat) across all pieces of content tested –

Chart – % Trust What This Video is Communicating (Top 2 Box)

Chart – % Trust What This Video is Communicating (Top 2 Box)

While most pieces of content (both Sponsored Content and Traditional Advertising) score 72% or above on Top 2 Box Trust, under half trust what the Sponsored Review and/or the Influencer Video are communicating. The Influencer Video is especially low on this measure, with only 36% saying they trust what this video is communicating.

So based on these results, it appears that influencers and celebrities may have to go a bit further than informational/educational videos to instill trust in consumers and viewers.

Movie trailers still excel in inspiring action, especially Word of Mouth

As you may have gathered from both the table and chart above, the Onward trailer performed exceedingly well. It not only vastly outscored the Tom Holland Influencer video on a number of measures, but it scored in line with the two high-performing pieces of Sponsored Content – the Sponsored How-To and Sponsored Storytelling videos – across most key measures.

Right – across most key measures. Because on one measure in particular, this trailer scored significantly higher than ALL OTHER pieces of content tested – likelihood to talk about this video with friends or family.

After watching each video they were exposed to, respondents were asked a number of questions including one to gauge post-exposure behaviors. The question asked:

With 56% of viewers indicating they would be Extremely or Very Likely to talk about this video with their friends or family, the Onward trailer is the piece of content generating the strongest Word of Mouth. Additionally, the trailer scores relatively high on being shared with others via social media and being a video viewers would email to someone they know.

Movie trailers exist as very unique pieces of advertising. Viewers and cinephiles not only seek out movie trailers and share them. Countless YouTube videos are dedicated to trailer reactions and discussions. This specific trailer has a number of them:

Therefore, whereas CPG and service companies are continually faced with the need to work around ad blockers and look for creative ways to talk to their consumers, movie studios can still feel confident in a healthy return on a more traditional media spend. And their media research dollars are also well-spent on gauging ad performance and optimizing their trailers.

Wait a sec – Invoke does a lot of advertising testing, doesn’t it?

It sure does, faithful reader. It sure does.


Get insights into
the exact things your audience is watching.

By entering your email address, you agree to receive marketing communication in accordance with our privacy policy.