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Sponsored posts on e-cigarettes perform worse on social media

Tristan Manalac
18 Dec 2020

Labelling e-cigarette posts as ads or sponsored material on social media seems to draw less attention from youth and young adults, according to a recent study.

“Establishing that youth and young adults actually pay attention to such indications of commercial intentions on social media is an important first step in formulating practicable and effective approaches to regulating commercial content on social media,” the researchers said.

Two-hundred young participants (mean age, 20.6 years; 51 percent male) completed the eye-tracking experiment. They were asked to view their own Instagram feeds into which six organic e-cigarette-related posts from influencers were inserted. Four of these posts were designated as labelled stimuli: two were tagged as #ad and the other two as #sponsored. The remaining two influencer posts were displayed without disclosure.

Using a standardized cell phone fitted with an infrared remote eye-tracking system, participants were asked to browse content as they normally would. Despite the #ad and #sponsored tags, participants viewed the labelled influencer posts an average of 2.2 seconds shorter than unlabelled controls (6.6 vs 8.4 seconds). [J Health Commun 2020;doi:10.1080/10810730.2020.1849464]

Dwell time ranged from 4.1 to 9.5 seconds for each individual influencer post and averaged 6.7±6.2 seconds. This also seemed weaker for labelled content, which could only hold the viewers’ attention for an average of 2.6±2.7 seconds. Those tagged as #ad tended to perform slightly better than the #sponsored posts (3.1±3.3 vs 2.2±1.9 seconds).

In comparison, unlabelled influencer posts tended to perform better, earning a maximum dwell time of 11.4±11.1 seconds.

Bivariate analysis revealed that posts labelled #ad performed statistically better, capturing a dwell time 0.90-seconds greater than #sponsored posts (p<0.05). This seemed to be driven by one particular influencer, whose #ad vs #sponsored posts had a dwell time of 3.03±1.14 seconds (p<0.05).

Nevertheless, multivariate modelling with further adjustments, including for age and current tobacco use, confirmed that dwell time on #ad posts was significantly longer than on #sponsored posts (0.93±0.41 seconds; p<0.05).

“Our findings, in light of the robust theoretical and empirical evidence for the influence of social media on young people, support mandating some type of disclosure on tobacco influencer posts,” the researchers said. “In particular, results suggest that the relatively simple use of a hashtag can assist young consumers in assessing the credibility of posts, supporting the potential efficacy and effectiveness of this approach in the visually busy social media environment.”

“Given the importance of this medium of influencing youth and young adults and the limits of relying only on self-regulatory actions from social media companies or the tobacco industry, regulatory agencies must establish and enforce standards for commercially sponsored e-cigarette content on social media,” they added.

Future efforts in this field should determine how such social media post labels affect the credibility of the message and how it affects consumer attitudes and intention. There should also be efforts to refine the analysis of the effects of such tags, looking at the optimal language, character length, and placement within a post. Expanding these findings to other social media platforms is needed as well.

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Most Read Articles
01 Dec 2020
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