03 Aug Sponsored content
The literature on sponsored content is relatively comprehensive. There are different understandings and definitions of sponsored content that often correspond to the topic of the respective study. This study follows the definition of Boerman and colleagues (2014, p. 215) describing sponsored content as “(…) the intentional incorporation of brands, products, or persuasive messages into traditionally noncommercial, editorial content”. There are several studies examining the effect of sponsored content. Van Reijmersdal, Neijens and Smit (2007) found that the brand image of people that watched episodes of editorial content with said brand integrated into it became more similar to the image of the program they were watching.
Adding to these results, Dens and colleagues (2012) showed that the prominence of a brand placement in a movie as well as its connection to the plot influences how well viewers can recognize the brand and how positive their attitude towards the brand is. Looking at the effects of sponsored content on the source of the content, a study found that participants’ attitudes towards influencers that produce sponsored content can also change depending on the level of disclosure of the sponsoring, with a tacitly disclosure leading to a lower perceived credibility of the influencer (Carr and Hayes, 2014). In addition, a series of studies examined the influence of sponsorship disclosure and the effect persuasion knowledge has in this context. Boerman and colleagues (2012) examined how the disclosure that the content is sponsored influences brands responses in a TV show and found that the sponsored content condition lead to a higher activation of persuasion knowledge while showing mixed results concerning the effect on brand attitude. A follow-up study did show that a sponsorship disclosure primes viewers and as a consequence activates resistance against persuasion, which then leads to a more negative brand attitude compared to viewers that did not see a sponsorship disclosure (Boerman et al. 2014). Van Reijmersdal and colleagues (2016) found similar results when looking at the effect of sponsorship disclosure in the context of blogging, with persuasion knowledge mediating the effect of disclosure on brand attitude (van Reijmersdal et al. 2016). While the studies mentioned so far did not explicitly state that sponsored content leads to a more negative brand attitude but only that the disclosure has a negative effect on it, it is important to remember that there are legal requirements for the disclosure of a sponsorship. Therefore, the disclosure is inextricably linked to sponsored content, meaning that the studies de facto propose that sponsored content leads to a more negative attitude than non-sponsored content. Although there are many more studies on the effect of sponsorship disclosure (see for instance Hwang and Jeong 2016; Janssen, et al. 2016; Wojdynski and Evans 2016), the line of research presented thus far is of special importance for the theoretical framework of this study and therefore suffices to give a picture of the current research. It suggests that sponsored content is able to influence the attitude towards the sponsoring brand, although its influence is lower compared to content in which the brand is included without sponsorship. For the current study this implies that sponsored content should have a more negative influence on brand attitude than other forms of content that involve the brand without being sponsored, like user-generated content. To complete the overview of the three content types relevant for this study, a look at content marketing is required.