Effects of Sponsorships in E-Newspapers
Running Head: EFFECTS OF SPONSORSHIPS IN E-NEWSPAPERS
This Page is Brought to You By . . . :
An Experimental Test of Sponsorship Credibility in an Online Newspaper
Glen T. Cameron, Ph.D.
Ann M. Brill, Ph.D.
University of Missouri-Columbia
School of Journalism
Funding for this study was provided by Pulitzer Technologies Inc. Correspondence
concerning this article should be addressed to Shelly Rodgers, P.O. Box 1958,
Columbia, MO, 65205-1958, (573) 474-9138, e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Paper submitted to the Advertising Division of the Association for Education in
and Mass Communication Convention, New Orleans, 1999.
This Page is Brought to You By . . . :
An Experimental Test of Sponsorship Credibility in an Online Newspaper
Advertisers are being asked to sponsor pages in online newspapers. E-newspapers
and advertisers have anecdotally reported success, however, no study has
examined the effects of such sponsorship. This study seeks to remedy that
through an experiment that tests the effects of sponsorship on memory and
credibility through the manipulation of timing, story type and sponsor type.
Findings suggest that there are steps advertisers and e-newspapers can take to
optimize the relationship between advertising and news content.
This Page is Brought to You By . . . :
An Experimental Test of Sponsorship Credibility in an Online Newspaper
For decades, newspapers and advertisers have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship
where advertisers sponsor the production of news, and newspapers, in turn, lend
credibility to advertisers (Brill, 1999; Cameron & Haley, 1996). Electronic
newspapers and advertisers also appear to benefit from this give-and-take
relationship (Ognianova, 1998). Still at question, though, is how editorial and
advertising will stay connected on the Internet to benefit and complement one
another (Brill, 1999; Noack, 1999). Indeed, both ink and electronic newspapers
are under pressure to prove to advertisers that newspaper advertising works, or
lose out on advertising dollars that are imperative to a newspaper's survival
To address the question of advertising effectiveness, most electronic
newspapers are using a trial-by-error approach. Among the strategies tried are
banner ads--where content is clearly separated from the ad, and text ads--where
these lines are not as clearly defined (Thorson, Wells & Rodgers, 1999). While
banner ads remain the predominant advertising vehicle used by e-newspapers and
other web sites (Doyle, Modahl & Abbott, 1999), content sponsorships, a type of
text ad, are becoming more commonplace (Gipson, 1998; Hyland, 1999; Sweetman,
1998). Under this approach, sections of e-newspapers are sponsored by an
advertiser with a simple text ad that reads, "This page is brought to you by . .
. ." (Yung, 1998). The more closely a sponsor's product is tied to the content,
the more effective that sponsorship is said to be (Meenaghan, 1991). This
"vested interest" in news content on the part of the sponsor has caused
practitioners and scholars to question whether readers will trust news that is
too closely linked with the sponsor.
USA Today online was recently criticized for closely associating its content
with a sponsorship for Hewlett Packard color printers (Stone, 1999). The news
pages, which normally appear in color, appeared monochrome until the reader
clicked on HP's ad. Once the ad was clicked, the sponsor's message appeared on
the screen: "This reminder of the impact of color has been brought to you by
Hewlett-Packard color printers."
This technique, which has been coined "contextual advertising," is relatively
new to online newspapers, and its recent use has created both ethical and
practical questions about whether this approach crosses the editorial line
(Stone, 1999; Yung, 1998). At issue is whether readers can distinguish between
content and sponsor (Cameron & Curtin, 1995), and whether the credibility of an
e-newspaper is detrimentally affected by the use of context advertising (Wilson,
Based on these same concerns, the interactive edition of the Wall Street
Journal declined to run HP's ad. In response to why the ad was declined, Randy
Kilgore, advertising director, responded: "When sites allow advertisers to
affect the way the content is viewed, then it can't help but leave a negative
impression on the value of the content they are getting" (quoted in Stone, 1999,
Other critics disagree with this contention and assert that sponsored content
"enhances users' experiences, boosts the image of publisher and sponsor, and
contributes to the bottom line" (Gipson, 1998, p. 11). In fact, having
advertiser-sponsored sections of online newspapers is said to be the key to
their profitability (Rosenberg, 1999).
Proponents suggest that because the Internet offers novel approaches to
presenting the news (e.g., chats with a story source), e-newspapers must take
extra precautions to ensure that the news product is distinguished from
advertising. Thus, e-newspapers are urged to simply label text ads as "paid
advertisements" that are "not the views" of the e-newspaper (Stone, 1999; Yung,
The Chicago Tribune online recently promoted a chat session between a Chicago
plastic surgeon and interested readers (Ibid.). To assuage ethical concerns and
combat possible credibility problems about where the content originated,
disclaimers were added so that readers would know that these were not the
e-newspaper's views but the views of the doctor.
Although such an approach seems logical, even responsible, what is not known is
whether such a label accomplishes its intended purpose. That is, even though an
e-newspaper may label a plastic surgeon as the sponsor of the chat session, is
this label even noticed or believed by participating readers? Furthermore, does
it matter where the label appears during the chat? If, for example, the label
were to appear upon entering the chat area, will readers form a different
impression of the content, sponsor and e-newspaper than if the label appeared
upon exit from the chat?
Sponsorship in e-newspapers has also raised concern about which type of
news--hard or soft--can be sponsored without hurting the newspaper's
credibility. A recent survey found that more than 80% of Web users in the United
States trust online news as much as they trust news in other media (Yovovich,
1998). The concern, however, is that e-sponsorships--especially of hard
news--will change that. While some critics maintain that sponsorship is
appropriate only for feature news (e.g., Stone, 1999; Yung, 1998), others assert
that the integrity and credibility of the e-newspaper is preserved regardless of
the type of news sponsored (Rosenberg, 1999; Wilson, 1998; Yung, 1999).
For the most part, sponsorships are being sold to support entertainment and
feature sections, but not hard news sections. The Los Angeles Times online
recently experimented with selling sponsorships of its entertainment section
(called MetaHollywood) to IBM. The Times reported that no control over editorial
content was granted to IBM, and no negative feedback was received by readers
(Yung, 1998). The same was true of sponsorships sold by other online newspapers,
like The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and the Minneapolis Star
Tribune (Yung, 1998; Yung, 1999).
Clearly, these issues about the profound impact of sponsored editorial on an
e-newspaper's credibility are important--from practical, ethical and theoretical
standpoints. The rising popularity of sponsorships in e-newspapers, and the
controversy and unanswered questions surrounding their use, prompted us to
wonder just how significant content sponsorship is as a factor and how it
interacts with the credibility of the e-newspaper. To explore these issues, we
formalized the following research questions.
RQ1: Are response differences noted when the sponsor's line of business is more
closely tied to the content or less closely tied? Does a contextual sponsor
cause lower credibility evaluations of the e-newspaper?
RQ2: Which timing is more effective in terms of remembering and responding to
the sponsor and the sponsored content--the beginning, middle or end?
RQ3: Does the type of news story make a difference in the responses readers
have about the content, sponsor and e-newspaper? That is do sponsorships work
best for a feature or breaking news story, and is the credibility of the sponsor
or the e-newspaper diminished by either?
In the last two decades, sponsorship has become a powerful but misunderstood
form of consumer persuasion (Gardner & Shuman, 1987). Sponsorship provides an
indirect form of persuasion that "does not try to change perceptions of the
brand in frontal assault," which is what makes it "fundamentally different from
traditional advertising" (Crimmins & Horn, 1996, p. 12).
Although the "basic principles [of sponsorship] are still being laid down"
(Meenaghan, 1991, p. 36), most scholars agree that the object is for a sponsor
to select a company or event that relates the image it wants to project
(Burridge, 1989). This is one reason electronic newspapers are believed to be
the best online vehicle for sponsorship (Wilson, 1998). Because consumers
already trust e-newspapers as credible sources of information (Ognianova, 1998),
it is assumed that the newspaper's credibility will "rub off" on the sponsor
Indeed, "image by association" is thought to be the key to determining how well
a sponsorship performs (Meenaghan, 1991). The assumption, then, is that if the
reader perceives that the sponsor is "suitable" for the news content to which it
associates, success is automatic (Gardner & Shuman, 1987). This point is
illustrated by Crimmins and Horn (1996), who suggest that: "By forging this
link, sponsorship makes use of our elementary human calculus, a calculus so
basic to the way we think that it is as unconscious and automatic as digestion"
This assumption, however, has only rarely been tested by researchers (see
Cornwell & Maignan, 1998). And, for the few studies that have addressed
sponsorship effects, findings have been mixed. For example, Javalgi et al.
(1994) found different effects of sponsorship on image, which ranged from
showing positive responses for some sponsors and negative for others. Nicholls,
Roslow and Laskey (1994) also found positive sponsor response, but only for one
of the nine brands examined.
Similar mixed outcomes have been found on a more practical level as well. Since
1984, Sponsor Watch has tracked how many respondents identified the correct
sponsor of the Olympics (Horn, 1996). They concluded that, out of 102 official
sponsors, only half "built a successful link between their brand and the
Olympics in the consumer's mind" (Ibid.). In an effort to better understand the
factors and processes that underlie sponsorship, Stipp and Schiavone (1996)
developed a model to assess participants' impressions of Olympic sponsors. Their
findings support what other effectiveness studies have typically found--that the
sponsor's image is related to viewers' recall and evaluation of the sponsorship.
But the sponsor's image was also found to be affected "by special attributes of
Olympic sponsorship" (Ibid.). Specifically, the perceived strength of the link
between the sponsor and the Olympics was a significant predictor of sponsor
image. Thus, Stipp and Schiavone (1996) seem to confirm what advertising
practitioners and scholars have assumed all along--that an effective sponsorship
must closely and logically link with the sponsoree.
But Stipp and Schiavone (1996) also found that attitudes toward the Olympic
sponsorship itself significantly predicted the sponsors image. That is, the more
respondents were convinced that the sponsorship was motivated for prosocial
benefits (e.g., the availability of the Games on commercial TV for free), the
stronger the attitude toward the sponsor. Thus, their findings indicate that,
although consumers understand that advertising is meant to advance business
goals, sponsorships have the added benefit of serving a prosocial function.
In an attempt to capitalize on the prosocial function of sponsorship, Philip
Morris has developed a campaign to sponsor television ads that discourage teens
from smoking. For the most part, Philip Morris' efforts have been criticized for
being self-promoting, even though the message being sponsored is clearly
prosocial (see Editor & Publisher, Dec. 12, 1998, p. 49). Anheuser-Busch has
also faced public criticism after sponsoring television messages that promote
responsible use of its products (see O'Dwyer's PR Services Report, November,
1998, p. 64). Nevertheless, companies see a value in taking a proactive approach
to dealing with polemical matters related to their products. Such community
relations efforts offer significant revenue opportunities for online newspapers
However, such efforts have prompted public concern over sponsorships by tobacco
and alcohol companies. At issue is the question of just how closely tied the
sponsor can be to the message without creating consumer backlash. Thus, the link
and overall credibility of the sponsor and sponsored space appear to be key
elements to successful sponsorship, which we will further test here.
Source Credibility and Memory
Cameron and colleagues have reviewed and adapted nearly 50 years of sleeper
effects literature to current questions pertaining to effective labeling of
material to identify message source (Cameron, 1994; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Wilcox,
Ault & Agee, 1989). Source credibility studies starting with Hovland have argued
for source notification as a factor in memory for message as a dependent
variable, with higher source credibility contributing to better memory which in
turn can contribute to attitude change (Fishbein, 1967; Greenwald, 1968;
Hovland, Janis & Kelly, 1953; Hovland, Lumsdaine & Sheffield, 1949; McGuire,
1973); Miller & Campbell, 1981).
Cook and Flay (1978) concluded from a review of more than 25 studies of the role
of memory in attitude change that it "seems unlikely that retention of message
details and delayed attitude are related in any simple way, though they may be
related in complex ways." They stated that although "the evidence is equivocal,
there are indications of a causal relationship, and it would be premature to
suggest that persistence is not at all related to the retention of broader
details of a persuasive communication" (Ibid., p. 25). Other researcher have
found just such a relationship between retention of messages and attitude
formation and persistence (Miller & Campbell, 1968; Gruder et al., 1978; Ronis,
Timing of source notification (before or after message) has been found to exert
fairly important effects on source cues for audiences (Homer & Kahle, 1990;
Insko, 1964; O'Keefe, 1987; Sternthal, Phillips & Dholakia, 1978). Research has
suggested that more than a simple association of a credible source with a
persuasive position must occur, otherwise timing of source notification would
not be a significant factor. This view gained further support from Pratkanis,
Greenwald, Leippe, and Baumgardner in 1988 as well as Homer and Kahle in 1990.
Timing of source notification before or after a message affected memory for the
message and for the source, as well as affecting persuasive impacts. For the
current study, sponsorship source labeling reifies credibility of the sponsor
providing the Web pages. In sum, the prior source cue here is the sponsorship
label placed at the beginning of the sponsored Web content. The implication of
prior notification as contrasted with other locations was summarized by Cameron
When a source cue is given after a message, encoding processes are already done,
with additional traces laid down in memory for source information found at the
end of the message. With prior source attribution, encoding is influenced by the
credibility of the source. Prior source attribution leads to integration of
source with message. When a source has lower credibility, the message is
accorded less credence and less effortful elaboration in memory occurs (i.e.
poorer memory for the message).
The current study adds an additional location for source label. In addition to
prior (beginning of web page) and post (end of web page), the current study
includes sponsorship information in the middle of web pages. Doing so may enable
integration of the sponsorship information with the content of the story itself.
It is posited that the middle location will be noticed for its modest
interruption of the story flow. Like the prior source cue, sponsor information
in this location will be integrated with the story in the manner described by
It is posited here that source information before or after a story is stored as
episodic memory traces rather than semantic memory traces, as is the case for
story content. This position follows from recent work on durability of source
effects reviewed here.
The persuasion literature includes considerable attention to the durability of
source credibility effects. In the current study, durability of source effects
are integral to the purported effects of sponsorship on subsequent processing of
information about the source (i.e., the advertiser seeking recognition as
sponsor, and the story). If sponsorship is not durable, then it provides much
less "bang for the bucks" of sponsors.
Most of the work on the interaction of time and source conditions has evaluated
various iterations of the sleeper effect, beginning with the idea that fragile
memory for source results in an absolute increase in persuasive impact for a
questionable source (Hovland, Lumsdaine & Sheffield, 1949).
With growing evidence that source was remembered, the dissociation hypothesis
was developed (Hovland & Weiss, 1951; Weiss, 1953). But studies failed to find
an absolute sleeper effect evidenced by increased persuasive impact over time
called into question the concept of the sleeper effect (Chaiken, 1980; Capon &
Hulbert, 1973; Maddux & Rogers, 1980; Whittaker & Meade, 1968). In 1978, Gruder
found absolute sleeper effects, but specified certain conditions necessary for
obtaining the effect (Gruder et al., 1978).
Gillig & Greenwald (1974) found more evidence for a relative sleeper effect
(Gillig & Greenwald, 1974). The relative sleeper effect occurs when a low
credibility source has less initial impact than a high credibility source, but
experiences less decay of impact over time than does the high credibility source
(Cook et al., 1979). Pratkanis et al. (1988) repeatedly found a relative sleeper
effect and offered a replacement for the dissociation hypothesis-the
differential decay hypothesis that:
"Subjects remember the communication events (episodes), but the impact of the
communication (on evaluation) decays over time. This assumption is made in the
differential decay interpretation. Thus, it is not the dissociation of events in
memory but a differential dissipation of the impact of two different persuasive
communications. This is consistent with the notion of two separate memory
systems (Tulving, 1983): one for episodes or events (i.e., I heard a message and
cue) and one for meaning (i.e., I favor X)" (Pratkanis et al., 1988, p. 216).
According to the differential decay interpretation, a sleeper effect is not
likely to occur when discounting information precedes the message. In such
cases, subjects may be more disposed to counterargue with the message as they
read. Thus, the persuasive impact of the message is attenuated, and the message
and source are more likely to form a unit in memory (Ibid., p. 215).
With prior cueing for source, the message and source cue "can be interpreted
only in light of the other" (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981). In considering
sponsorship (i.e., source cue), it is just this distinction in the qualitative
nature of memory traces for events (episodic memory) and memory for the meaning
of the story (semantic memory) that is relevant. The distinction may account for
a differential decay that is offered to predict that sponsorship labeling in the
middle of the story will be most effective immediately after use of the web
pages. This hypothesis in this study adapts sleeper effect principles related to
delayed effects by positing that same qualitative difference in memory for
source and story will be found in immediate measures of memory and attitude.
To assess the effect of sponsor association on memory and attitude, the
following two hypotheses were developed.
H1: Memory for news stories sponsored by companies with a vested interest will
be better than memory for companies that have no vested interest in the content.
H2: Attitudes toward sponsors with no vested interest in the content will be
better than sponsors with a vested interest.
To assess the effect of timing of sponsor on memory and attitude, the following
two hypotheses were developed.
H3: Memory for sponsors who appear in the middle of a news story will be better
than memory for sponsors who appear at the beginning or end.
H4: Attitude toward sponsors who appear at the beginning of a news story will
be better than sponsors who appear in the middle and end.
To assess the effect of story type on memory and attitude, the following
hypotheses were developed.
H5: Memory for feature stories will be better than memory for hard news.
H6: Attitude toward feature stories will be better than attitude toward hard
To assess the effect of sponsor association and story type on attitude toward
the e-newspaper, the following two hypotheses were developed.
H7: Credibility for the e-newspaper will be rated better for hard news over
H8: Credibility for e-newspaper will be rated better for no vested over vested
The interplay between sponsor association in response to story type was
addressed in Hypothesis 9.
H9: Sponsor association and story type interact such that the combination of
vested interest and hard news story response is markedly different from any
other combinations of the two variables.
Participants. A total of 114 undergraduates (65 females and 49 males) from a
large, Midwestern university volunteered to participate in this study.
Participants were recruited from journalism and advertising classes and were
offered between two and 10 extra credit points, depending on the instructor.
Volunteers were treated in accordance with University guidelines involving human
Design. A mixed 2 (sponsor) x 2 (story type) x 3 (timing) factorial design
experiment was conducted. Timing was the between-subjects variable. Sponsor and
story type were within-subjects factors, meaning that each subject received each
of the conditions for both variables. In this way, the design controls for
individual differences, thereby increasing the sensitivity of the measures. The
first factor was sponsor (vested vs. no vested). The second factor was story
type (hard news vs. feature), and the third factor was timing (beginning, middle
Twelve Web sites were developed using the same four stories (2 soft and 2 hard)
and the same three sponsors (2 vested and 1 no vested) so that each variable
could be randomly ordered, including the stories themselves. Timing was then
randomly assigned to each story for each of the 12 conditions.
Stimulus materials. About 20 Web sites (e.g., MADD and the American Lung
Association) were visited and 40 news stories were collected that discouraged
underage drinking and smoking. Then, based on the recommendations of one editor
and two journalists, four stories were chosen based on quality of content and
story type. The two story types were hard and soft news stories (see Appendix A
Four stories were selected for the experiment--two that discouraged underage
smoking and two that discouraged underage or irresponsible drinking. Thus, story
topic was held constant across the four stories. Because the stories were actual
(vs. simulated), they were rewritten to reflect the objectives of this study.
All four stories were rearranged so that two of them reflected a soft news
format and two were formatted for hard news. (see Appendix B for an example).
Three national companies were chosen to sponsor the stories on the basis of
their past history as sponsors. For the vested condition, Budweiser and Marlboro
were selected as sponsors with a vested interest in the story topics drinking
and smoking respectively. VISA, who has sponsored numerous events, including the
Olympics, was selected for the no vested condition.
Consistent with commonly used online sponsorships, a line of text read, "News
you can use, brought to you by (sponsor name)." The sponsor tag was then
separated from the story by a thin, black rule. The rule ran underneath the
sponsor tag when the sponsor appeared at the beginning of the story, but on top
of the sponsor tag when the sponsor appeared in the middle or end. This was done
to denote a separation of sponsor and text (see Appendix B for a printout of a
The stories were placed in the context of a simulated e-newspaper that was
molded after an actual daily e-newspaper in a Midwestern city. Students would
then recognize the fonts, color scheme, and page layout as the actual
e-newspaper, but were later told in a debriefing that this was a simulation.
Each of the 12 web pages in the counterbalanced design were treated with a
timekeeper, which eliminated the need for a stop watch and allowed for even more
precision when administering the experiment. Pre-measures of slow and fast
readers were taken for all four stories, and an average of the two times was
used. Hard news stories tended to read faster than features. Thus, 80 seconds
was deemed an appropriate length of time for the hard news stories and 120
seconds for the features.
Five questionnaires were placed online. After time had elapsed for each story,
the computer screen flipped to the appropriate questionnaire. One questionnaire
followed each of the four stories. None of the questionnaires was timed. In this
way, participants could set their own pace when responding to questions. Each
questionnaire contained measures for memory of the content and credibility for
both the story and the e-newspaper.
The fifth and final questionnaire was lengthier and popped onto the screen
immediately after the fourth survey had been submitted. This last questionnaire
primarily measured memory for and attitude toward the sponsors. After all five
surveys were completed, they were then "bundled" and delivered to an e-mail
account to be later entered into SPSS.
Procedure. As mentioned, the student participants volunteered to participate
through a sign-up sheet in journalism and advertising classes. To accommodate
students' schedules, two successive Fridays were chosen for the experiment. The
proctor arrived two hours before the experiment to standardize each computer's
settings. The screen resolution was set to 1024/768 pixels, 256 colors was
selected on the color palette, and a refresh rate of 60 hertz was selected. Font
size was also set at a standard, large, size for each computer.
One of 12 combination web pages was then loaded onto every screen and was set
as the homepage. Combinations were then rotated with each new group of
participants receiving a new combination. In this way, every person in the room
received the same combination, and guessing the point of the study, by comparing
different treatments on adjacent screens, was less likely.
The opening screen was alike for all 12 pages, and read, "Welcome to the (name
of e-newspaper)! Please wait for instructions." A "click here" button appeared
at the bottom of the screen, which moved the participants from the opening page
to a detailed instructions page (see Appendix C for instructions). After reading
the instructions, participants then clicked on another button at the bottom of
that screen and began the study. From that point, participants were propelled
through the site with the self-timing mechanism on each story page and the
submit button on each questionnaire page.
Dependent measures. The questionnaires were written with two main criteria in
mind: memory performance and attitude formation. These were measured in the
following ways. Memory performance included aided and unaided details that were
to be recalled for both the sponsor and the content. Each questionnaire that
followed a story tested three memory items--one for the theme of the story and
two for specific story content. Memory for the sponsor was measured with one
unaided and two aided questions, whereby participants were asked to select the
correct sponsor for each story.
Attitude for the stories, sponsors and e-newspaper was measured using semantic
differential scales that asked participants about credibility, believability and
Statistical analyses. Because each participant was exposed to both conditions
of sponsor association and story type, the effect of these variables on memory
performance and attitude was evaluated using a repeated measure, MANOVA.
To determine whether the sponsor association manipulation was effective, the
following test was run. Responses were manipulated using either vested or no
vested interest on the part of the sponsor. Participants were asked to rate,
using a Likert scale, whether it "makes sense" for the company to sponsor this
story. Visa's (M=3.00) association with drinking and alcohol stories was seen as
making less sense (i.e., no vested) than did Budweiser's (M=3.40) and Marlboro's
(M=3.11) (F (2, 453) = 5.38, p < .01).
Males vs. Females
As mentioned earlier, there were 65 females and 49 males. No memory differences
were found between genders for either the content or the sponsor. However,
differences were found for attitudes toward the content, sponsor and electronic
newspaper. In general, females gave higher credibility ratings to the content,
sponsors--whether vested or not, and the e-newspaper than did males (see Table
1). These differences were significant at the .05 level.
The sponsor appeared in the story 166 times at the beginning (37%), 122 times
in the middle (27%), and 161 times at the end (36%). Forty-nine percent of the
sponsors had a vested interest in the content, and 51% did not. Exactly one-half
of the stories were features and the other half were hard news.
Determining whether contextual sponsors are noticed in an electronic newspaper
was a primary objective of this study. To assess awareness of the sponsor,
respondents were asked, "Do you recall seeing a sponsor for story x?" with "yes"
or "no" responses. For all 12 experimental sites, there was a possibility of
seeing 456 sponsors (4 for each of 114 participants). Of these, 65% were noticed
and 35% were not.
Sponsors that were least noticed were those that had no vested interest in the
content and that appeared at the beginning of the news story. Visa, the
neutral/no vested sponsor, was unnoticed in 39% of cases, whereas Budweiser and
Marlboro, the vested sponsors, went unnoticed 31% of the time.
In terms of timing, sponsors that appeared at the beginning of news stories
were least noticed (47%). The second most unnoticed sponsors were those that
appeared at the end of the story (31%). Of the sponsors that interrupted the
story by appearing in the middle, 28% went unnoticed.
A secondary objective of this study was to determine whether sponsor
association influenced memory performance for both the content and the sponsor.
To assess this analysis, two indices were formed through simple addition of
individual items which assess accurate recall and matching of items for the
content and sponsor. An index for content recall was formed using three memory
items specific to the content of each story. These items included recall of the
story's theme and recall of two factual elements within the story (e.g., What
percent of teens drink when they are upset?). Correct answers received a score
of "1", and incorrect answers were given a "0." Scores ranged from 0 to 3, with
the high value indicating higher memory performance. The mean for content recall
is 2.20, indicating a high degree of recall for the content (see Table 2).
Recall for the sponsor index consists of three items, whether the respondents
recalled seeing a sponsor, unaided recall of that sponsor and matching of the
sponsor with the correct story. Scores ranged from 0 to 3, with the higher value
indicating better memory performance. The mean is 1.64, indicating a high degree
of recall for the sponsor.
In addition to assessing memory performance, this study attempted to determine
attitudinal responses to the content, sponsor and e-newspaper. To conduct this
analysis, three indices were formed through simple addition of individual items
which assessed attitudes toward the content, sponsors and e-newspaper. The index
for attitude toward content consisted of three items: credibility, believability
and convincability (Alpha=.84). Scores ranged from 0 to 15, with the high value
indicating more positive responses. The mean is 10.71, indicating a fairly high
degree of positive attitudes toward the content. The index for attitude toward
the sponsor was calculated in the same way, using credibility, believability and
trustworthiness items (Alpha=.88). The mean is 9.59, indicating moderate
positive attitudes toward the sponsors. Marlboro was rated highest on overall
attitude (M=10.38), followed by Budweiser (M=9.43) and Visa (M=9.29).
An index for attitude toward the e-newspaper was calculated in the same way,
using attitude items of credibility, believability and responsibility
(Alpha=.85). The mean is 11.17, indicating high agreement with the
pro-statements regarding the e-newspaper's credibility.
Hypothesis 1 stated that memory for information about sponsors with no vested
interest in the content will be better than sponsors with a vested interest.
This was supported (see Table 3). The mean recall score for vested-sponsored
content was 2.13, compared to the mean recall score of 2.27 for sponsors with no
vested interest in the content (F (1, 454) = 4.55, p < .05).
Hypothesis 2 stated that attitudes toward companies with no vested interest in
the content will be better than sponsors with a vested interest. This was
supported. Vested sponsors had a mean credibility score of 8.24, whereas no
vested sponsors had a mean of 10.90 (F (1, 447) = 76.63, p < .001).
Hypothesis 3 predicted that memory for sponsors who appear in the middle of a
news story will be better than memory for sponsors who appear at the beginning
or middle. This was supported (F 2, 446) = 7.43, p < .001). Planned contrasts
using the middle timing as a reference category indicated differences in memory
between the middle timing (M=1.84), and the end (M=1.79) and beginning (M=1.36)
timings. These differences were all statistically significant at the .01 level.
Support was also found for Hypothesis 4, which concerned the effects of timing
on responses to the sponsor. As predicted, sponsors that appeared in the middle
of the story had the lowest mean credibility scores (M=9.07). Whereas, sponsors
that appeared at the beginning of the story had the highest mean credibility
scores (M=10.15), and sponsors who appeared at the bottom had credibility scores
somewhere in between (M=9.42) (F (2, 446) = 3.73, p < .05).
Hypotheses 5 and 6 concerned the effects of story type on memory and attitude
responses. Hypothesis 5 predicted that feature stories will be better remembered
than hard news. This was supported (F (5, 434) = 2.90, p < .001). An average of
2.30 items were recalled for feature stories and 2.11 items were recalled for
hard news. Hypothesis 6 stated that attitude toward features stories will be
better than attitude toward hard news. No differences were found.
Hypotheses 7 and 8 concerned the impact of story type and sponsor association on
the credibility of the e-newspaper. Hypothesis 7 predicted that credibility for
the e-newspaper would be rated better for hard news over feature stories.
Differences only approached significance (p=.08). Significant differences were
also not found for hypothesis 8. That is, regardless of whether the sponsor
closely tied its product to the content (e.g., Budweiser sponsoring a
anti-smoking story vs. VISA sponsoring an anti-smoking story), no credibility
differences were found for the e-newspaper.
Hypothesis 9 stated that sponsor association and story type interact such that
the combination of vested interest and hard news story response is markedly
different from any other combinations of the two variables. This interaction was
supported (F (5, 434) = 2.612, p < .05).
Hypotheses 1 stated that memory for sponsors would be affected by how closely
the sponsor's product tied to the content. This was strongly supported. The
sponsor with no vested interest in the content was remembered better. Sponsor
association with the content also affected participants' attitudes about the
sponsor, as supported in hypothesis 2. The neutral, or no vested, sponsor had a
higher mean credibility score than the vested sponsors. It was hypothesized (H3)
that sponsors who appeared in the middle of the story will be remembered best,
and this was supported. Sponsors that appeared at the end were second best
remembered, and those that appeared at the beginning were remembered the least.
In contrast, sponsors that appeared at the beginning of the stories were seen as
the most credible, and this supported hypothesis 4.
Hypothesis 5 and 6 concerned memory for and attitude toward soft and hard news
stories. We found no support for the prediction that participants would prefer
soft news over hard news stories (H6). Participants have higher recall scores
for soft over hard news stories (H5). Not only was the story theme more
accurately recalled for soft news stories, but story details and facts were also
more accurately recalled.
Hypothesis 7 predicted that the e-newspaper would be rated better for hard news
over soft news stories, and these differences only approached, but did not
reach, significance. We also predicted that the e-newspaper's credibility would
be higher for no vested over vested sponsors. No differences were found. That
is, whether or not a sponsor closely associated its product with story content
did not affect the e-newspaper's credibility.
Hypothesis 9 predicted that story type and sponsor association would interact
in such a way that the vested/hard news combination on attitude toward the
content would outperform any other combination of the two variables. This was
supported. That is, when a hard news story was sponsored by a company with a
vested interest in the content, that content was perceived as more credible.
Last, our research question concerned whether gender differences would be found
for memory and/or attitudes for the content, sponsor or the e-newspaper.
Significant differences were found. In general, females tended to have more
positive attitudes toward the content, sponsor and the e-newspaper.
In addition to testing the aforementioned hypotheses, this study sought to
determine whether context ads are an effective tool that would benefit both
sponsor and e-newspaper. Our findings suggest that both advertiser and
e-newspaper benefit from such an approach. From an advertiser's standpoint, this
study suggests that advertisers may want to steer clear of sponsoring news
content where they will be perceived as having a vested interest. Based on our
findings, it appears that a neutral sponsor is remembered and liked better.
Sponsors will want to use caution particularly when sponsoring polemical issues,
such as drinking and smoking. If such a sponsorship is necessary, advertisers
may want to consider sponsoring sections or news stories that particularly
appeal to the female audience. Our findings suggest that females were more
likely than males to rate the content higher in credibility.
Additional studies are needed to determine whether vested and no vested
sponsors of nonpolemical issues yields the same outcome, for example, in
political advertising. Our findings support the idea that sponsoring vested
content may do a disservice to the sponsor. There appears to be a continuum
between high association and no association between sponsor and content (e.g.,
utility company sponsors the honor roll). Because the current study is the first
study to examine this issue, it was necessary to create a "high association"
scenario so that, if an effect was to be found, it would in fact be found.
Additional studies are needed, however, to make finer distinctions along this
Our findings indicate that advertisers may also want to insist on having
embedded sponsorships. Sponsorships that appeared in the middle of the message
were remembered best. This finding suggests that embedded source labels may be
processed as semantic memory traces, as suggested by recent studies of the
sleeper effect. Alternatively, the middle position may be most noticed because
of its unusual location, garnering greater attention while not changing memory
processing. Regardless of the mechanism or combination of mechanisms at play,
our findings indicate that sponsors whose message "interrupts" the text by
appearing in the middle, also tend to be disliked the most. The current research
design does not elucidate whether this occurs because the sponsor is better
remembered or because the middle position somehow bothers readers. If further
research determines that there is an irritation factor with the obtrusive middle
location, then advertisers should not overuse this position. Instead, a sponsor
may want to use a variety of positions to achieve the best results in terms of
memory and attitude for the sponsor. Because we focused on placement within the
story itself, future studies are needed to address the issue of sponsor
placement within a broader context, such as the entire web page, or entire
There are also practical implications for e-newspaper ad sales staff. Ad sales
people will want to tell potential sponsors that contextual ads do work well for
neutral sponsors, but caution sponsors from associating too closely with the
news content. In addition, ad sales reps will want to caution advertisers from
sponsoring content about polemical issues. Potential sponsors will also need to
be told that they will be noticed and remembered best if they appear in the
middle of the content, rather than at the beginning or end. On the other hand,
if building brand image is the advertiser's objective, sponsors should be told
the pros and cons of appearing in the three locations. That is, corporate image
may be best helped by appearing at the beginning of a news story.
Our findings also suggest that contextual advertising may provide e-newspapers
with an effective and profitable advertising tool. The credibility of the
e-newspaper did not appear to suffer from sponsorships regardless of their
association with the content (i.e., vested or no vested). It also appears that
both hard and soft news stories can be sponsored without chipping away at the
e-newspaper's or the story's credibility. This finding runs contrary to the
assumption that only feature stories and/or sections can be sponsored.
Additional studies are needed to determine where contextual effects lie within
an e-newspaper. Because our study used a within-subjects design, it is possible
that the effects were "washed out." A between-subjects design that focuses on
the e-newspaper may be more appropriate for determining such differences. In
addition, future studies should consider comparing several e-newspapers and/or
other media. It is also possible that the effects obtained in this study were
specific to the e-newspaper selected, especially since the stimulus materials
were designed to simulate sections in an actual local e-newspaper, which there
is a strong likelihood that participants recognized.
As sponsorships become more common in electronic newspapers, the experimental
methodology used in this study will become increasingly important in testing and
understanding the effects of sponsorships under the control of the e-newspaper
practitioner. The model used in this study will assist advertising and
e-newspaper practitioners in developing guidelines for sponsoring news content.
Further, the method used in this study shows promise as a tool to evaluate
e-sponsorships. Future use of this method should include a between-subjects
design that makes finer distinctions between high- and low-association between
the product and news story. Additionally, measurement of credibility should be
included in evaluations of the response to better determine why the best
responses may depend on the perceived association between content and sponsor.
Further, the dependent measures of memory and attitude provide a solid and
comprehensive understanding of short term effects of the sponsor's and
Based on this study, it seems reasonable to conclude that a symbiotic
relationship still exists between newspapers and advertisers in an electronic
environment. In addition, there appears to be a future for contextual
advertising in electronic newspapers. Although neutral sponsors fared better
than vested sponsors overall, no credibility was lost for either the content or
e-newspaper regardless of the sponsor's association with the content.
As has been the case in other studies of advertising effects, some differences
in findings can be attributed to gender. This variable demands further study,
especially as the number of women online increases. As has been the case in
context advertising in newspapers, it may be that some sponsors would prefer the
lifestyle sections over, say, the sport section in an attempt to reach female
consumers. At the same time, it may be difficult to create an association
between advertising, appeals to gender and hard news content, which is often
capricious. The gender variable will be part of the research agenda in future
studies by the authors.
This study also shows that, using naturalistic stimulus materials, individuals
are able to accurately discern a vested from a no vested sponsor, a hard news
from a soft news story, and the timing and placement of the sponsor. This
manipulation check reinforces the existing belief that, although sponsorship can
work in an online news environment, there are also limitations to their
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Definition of Hard and Soft News
"Coverage of the actions of government or business; or the reporting of an
event, such as a crime, an accident or speech. The time element often is
important" (Brooks et al., 1996, p. 536).
"Stories about trends, personalities or lifestyles. The time element usually is
not important" (Brooks et al., 1996, p. 540).
Mean Memory and Attitude Scores for Gender
Item M SD N t
Memory for the Content
Females 8.78 1.48 65 -.236
Males 8.85 1.64 48
Memory for the Sponsor
Females 6.75 3.26 65 -.326
Males 6.96 3.42 49
Attitude Toward Content
Females 11.05 2.01 65 2.10*
Males 10.27 1.92 49
Attitude Toward Sponsor
Females 10.00 2.50 65 2.77*
Males 8.60 2.90 49
Attitude Toward E-Paper
Females 11.48 2.15 64 2.00*
Males 10.71 1.82 49
Mean Scores for Memory and Attitude
Index M SD N
Memory for Content 2.20 .73 456
Memory for Sponsor 1.64 1.21 456
Attitude Toward Content 10.71 2.89 456
Attitude Toward Sponsor 9.59 3.48 449
Attitude Toward E-Paper 11.17 2.91 456
MANOVA for Story Type, Sponsor Association and Timing
Independent Variables Memory Memory Attitude Attitude Attitude
Content Sponsor Content Sponsor E-Paper
Soft News 2.29*** 1.71 10.54 9.44 10.93
Hard News 2.11*** 1.57 10.88 9.75 11.40
Vested 2.13* 1.82 10.58 8.24* 11.05
No Vested 2.27* 1.48 10.84 10.90* 11.28
Beginning 2.17 1.38*** 10.52 9.07* 11.19
Middle 2.14 1.82*** 10.91 9.42* 10.98
End 2.27 1.78*** 10.71 9.59* 11.29
*p< .05 **p< .01 ***p< .001