Unless you are one of those smart people that avoids Facebook like the plague (no, I am clearly not one of those people), you’ve probably seen a lot of people sharing the results of a quiz that has decided, based on a seemingly random group of questions, what “Friends” character you’d be, what city you’d live in, or, as pictured, how you’d die in the HBO show Game of Thrones (I would apparently be decapitated).
But did you know that many of those internet quizzes are actually sponsored content? It’s not terribly clear that the pictured quiz is sponsored while “Game of Thrones” is listed as a Buzzfeed Partner, that doesn’t (in my humble opinion) make it clear that the quiz is actually an ad, unless you happen to read about it on Buzzfeed’s advertising page.
Online advertising revenue has declined considerable in recent years. Thanks to a combination of ad blockers that keep you from seeing ads on your browser and our generalized immunity to ads (do you even notice sidebar ads these days?), it’s harder than ever to earn money from a website. This is why so many brands have turned to pay for play for a fee, they ask websites to write about their products.
Bloggers have been earning money this way for years and so successfully that even those bastions of traditional publishing such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have begun to feature native advertising, albeit cautiously; no one wants a repeat of the native advertising kerfuffle at The Atlantic.
According to Anthony Ha at TechCrunch, Buzzfeed launched its sponsored quizzes after the wild success of the What City Should You Actually Live In? quiz (I got Portland) in January. From the article (Melissa Rosenthal, BuzzFeed’s director of creative services, is the Rosenthal mentioned):
Naturally, BuzzFeed saw the popularity of editorial quizzes and followed suit with ads — Rosenthal said her team follows “a lot of the trends that edit’s seeing,” so it’s “actively pitching and selling” sponsored quizzes, with about 10 published so far. The successes include a Mattel-sponsored quiz, “Which Barbie Doll Are You?” and an HBO-sponsored one, “How Would You Die In Game Of Thrones?’” BuzzFeed says both posts have been viewed more than 1 million times, with the Game of Thrones quiz clocking in at 75,000 Facebook shares, while the Barbie quiz has 161,000.
As someone that makes a living writing online, I understand the reasons for native advertising, and I’ve certainly written plenty of sponsored content and happily deposited the checks. And there is no doubt that most web publishers are putting a lot of revenue eggs in the native advertising basket.
However, Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile wrote in Time recently that “what you think you know about the web is wrong” and highlighting several alarming statistics, such as the average reader apparently gives each web page they visit only about 15 seconds of time (ouch). That means it’s pretty unlikely that anyone is reading – they are clicking, yes, but reading? Not so much. And as Haile points out in his article, for twenty years now clicks have been the currency of the web but when it comes to native advertising, only about a third of those clicks lead to scrolling through the article verses 70% on traditional articles.
I assume this is why Buzzfeed makes it less clear that some of their quizzes are sponsored; we’re more likely to read it and take the quiz if we think it’s just for fun, not for advertising purposes. I have to wonder, however, when we hear about content shock (that’s my article on my own site), if this is the sort of content that will make us content “immune.”
I’d end this article with something pithy or a question, but since you’ve likely only given me 15 seconds, chances are you haven’t read all the way through this post. If you have, you get an internet gold star. It’s worth less than a Bitcoin, sadly.