Media Industry and Consumers  

The Impact of Fake News on Its Sponsor’s Brand Trust

Fake news is on the rise. And it can be profitable. More than 100 fake news websites existed during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with many sites making $2,500 or more a day from advertising sponsorship. But what is the risk for brands who, intentionally or unknowingly, sponsor content on those sites?

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Telecommunication Professor Sylvia Chan-Olmsted and doctoral student Yufan “Sunny” Qin, wanted to explore if the credibility of news affected brand trust and whether factors such as product involvement, previous fake news experience or media consumption behavior might moderate possible mistrust in the brand.

Generally, fake news has been shown to negatively influence a brand, in some cases leading the advertiser to end sponsorship on that site. However, little is known about the impact of fake news on brand trust and how various factors might play a role in the process, as the fake news phenomenon is complex and often filtered through a political lens and news experiences.

The study confirmed that while brand trust is negatively influenced by the perceived credibility of the sponsored news environment, fake news in itself was not a significant factor affecting people’s trust in brands. In fact, more personal factors or gratifications gained through fake news consumption might somehow insulate the transfer of negative brand associations.

They also found that the perception of fake vs. real news by consumers is not black and white, and that “fakeness” is seen on a spectrum. They believe that the growing blend of advertising, enter­tainment and informational content might contribute to the ambiguity of fake news definition.

The study concludes that many factors play a role in the complex examination of the relationship between brand trust and association with fake news, as it is not a simplistic form of message-to-brand transfer. Individual experiences, beliefs, and motives might insulate the negative brand effect in the short term.

For example, when seeing news in a more entertaining light, the consumers are less irritated and affected by the brand’s association with the false news story and credibility is less of a factor. The researchers recommend that future studies look at long-term effects of brand association with fake news and examine personal factors for consumers, especially since news credibility is declining and credibility has some impact on brand trust.

The original article, “The Impact of Fake News on Its Sponsor’s Brand Trust,” was published in The Journal of Brand Strategy, Spring 2021.

This summary was written by Alexandra Avelino, UFCJC M.A.M.C. 2020, Student Affairs Program Coordinator at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.

Posted: April 30, 2021
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