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Is Earned Media Really More Credible than Advertising? Yes—with Some Caveats.

The following is excerpted from by Julie O'Neil’s, Marianne Eisenmann’s and Maggie Holman’s excellent 7/15/19 blog post: Is Earned Media More Credible than Advertising?

The mantra of both PR and marketing experts for a long time has been that earned media is more credible than paid advertising (print and digital ads, pay-per-click, etc.). The following info is from the results of a study conducted by the authors of the original blog post. Key findings included:

  • The greatest percentage of participants indicated and explained that they found the earned media story the most credible among the sources provided. When examining a message appearing in an earned media story, people seek out and pay attention to cues such as the independence of the journalist writing the story, whether the story is balanced in its coverage, the credentials of the journalist and the prestige of the media outlet where the story appeared.

  • Overall, people find blogs written by an independent blogger as credible. Participants praised the blogger’s (in this case a male) writing, his credentials, the sense that this person was someone like them, his experience using the product and his independence from the company manufacturing the product, all which impact perceptions of authenticity.

  • Although not as many participants viewed advertising as credible compared to earned media,

People believe that advertisements are a necessary component of the promotional mix to build awareness. People recognize that the information contained in an advertisement may be somewhat biased because the company paid for it, yet they temper that understanding with a critical review of the information and a desire to seek outside verification of the claims made. People recognize that companies will face legal consequences if they don’t tell the truth.

  • Nearly half of participants considered native advertisements as the least credible source Participants unanimously described the native ads as “sneaky,” “tricky,” and “disingenuous.” Some expressed frustration with differentiating between various sources of information, particularly the native advertisements.

  • Consumers actively seek out multiple online sources to verify claims in their effort to reduce uncertainty about a new product decision. Public relations practitioners and academics should focus less on the perceived credibility superiority or effectiveness of one source compared to another and focus instead on integrating consistent messaging across a wide spectrum of sources for maximum effectiveness.

  • People explained the importance of authenticity to their assessment of channels. Participants explained that bloggers, earned media, and/or endorsements from people with sound credentials enhance credibility. Moreover, participants said that negative comments or reviews enhance the authenticity of the story and therefore improves affirms credibility.

The full post is available here:

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