Friday, March 25, 2011

Readers' quality perceptions depend on how much they trust the source

Magazine publishers bang on about branding a lot and clearly believe that building a consistent, trusted image for their publications is a strong contributor to success. Now, according to a column today in the Globe and Mail by Chrystia Freeland, there may be proof that successful publishing is indeed in the business of providing readers with an editorial environment they trust.
She reports that some research from a Harvard Business School professor, as yet unpublished, seems to indicate that it is very important to readers where their information -- including advertising -- comes from. Bharat Anand, a Harvard professor and Alexsander Rosinski, a former visiting researcher there have say that conventional wisdom about the commodification of information may be wrong. They showed a story about Greek public finances to 700 readers as an unlabelled piece, an online piece by the Huffington Post and as an online piece from The Economist.
When respondents believed they were reading an Economist story, they rated its quality at 6.9 on a scale of 10; when the same piece was attributed to the Huffington Post, it drew a score of 6.1; and when it had no label, it scored just 5.4.
A similar exercise drew a clear distinction between ads and the perception of quality. So-called "good ads" had a marked impact on perception of the editorial quality. 
When the article was viewed beside ads for Jaguar and Credit Suisse, but without a brand, readers rated it a 6, nearly high as the 6.1 it received as an ad-free Huffington Post piece. Even the “cheap” ads (for online card games and astrology) earned a slightly higher rating of 5.6 for the no-brand story.
Not surprisingly, Freeland pointed out that the research showed advertising was seen as a negative by readers, making them a little more critical the more highly perceived was the quality of the source."Good" ads don't necessarily transfer their value to "good" editorial brands. 
But in my opinion advertisers come to trusted publications precisely because they bask in the reflected glory and quality of the editorial rather than the other way around.



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