In Pod We Trust: How Creators Can Best Juggle Credibility & Sponsored Content

Reading Time: 5 minutes

People would rather sift through fake AI results than see yet another ad. Something is happening in advertising, and the creator economy is affected greatly.

The shift towards trust-based advertising is a wake-up call for founders and creators when crafting their marketing strategy, as honesty, integrity, and trust are now essential components of a successful approach to outreach.

Here are the steps that you need to take to keep up with this development.

Something is happening in paid advertising. We’re witnessing a significant shift in how people react to ads — particularly when it comes to how they use search engines.

And as usual, ChatGPT is responsible. As conversational AI becomes more accessible to the masses, I’m seeing a growing sentiment among people: they would rather put in the extra effort of fact-checking ChatGPT’s output than be bombarded with ads on Google Search.

Experience this article as a podcast, a YouTube show, or as a newsletter:

After decades of Google being widely accepted as the easiest way to find information, this is a notable shift. People on the hunt for information want answers immediately — and they’re fed up with having to intentionally ignore the sponsored ads that Google puts in front of them. I’ve heard people say, “I’ll take ChatGPT with a few hallucinations any day over sponsored content.”

If early AI adopters already show such a strong tendency to do more work just to avoid being sold something, there’s a larger transition waiting for us down the line.

And this isn’t a new trend. It’s the continuation of what many creators have experienced for a while: the advertising landscape is moving heavily toward a trust-based model. But why is this happening, and how does it impact founders and creators?

The Power of Trust in Advertising

Take a look at how podcasts monetize: through sponsorships. Or rather, host-narrated sponsorships. Whatever podcast you listen to, if it’s monetized, it’s pretty likely a collaboration between podcast host and advertiser, not a mere placement.

And it is significantly different from the regular “write copy, display copy, get clicks” model of traditional ads in digital media.

Most podcast advertisers don’t run their own produced ads (as they would on the radio) because they simply don’t yield the desired results. However, conversions happen when the podcast host — the person the listeners tune in for — reads the ad. Listeners trust the host to have integrity. Besides that, it’s hard to fake genuine praise when you have to read an advertisement into a microphone. People very quickly figure out that level of dishonesty.

That’s why content creators have started “correcting” the copy they receive from advertisers. Not only do they add their own voice, but they also tend to take out statements they disagree with or wouldn’t be able to defend publicly.

This dynamic changes the power structure in the relationship between the podcaster and the advertiser. Advertisers aren’t just buying access to a listener audience; they’re purchasing a piece of the host’s credibility.

And that credibility is valuable — because audiences are paying attention and keeping score.

That’s why creators have become much more cautious about working with sponsors who might show even a hint of shady dealings. Running even a single ad for a disreputable company could potentially taint the creator’s reputation forever.

And in the attention economy, your reputation is all you have.

The Importance of Due Diligence for Creators

As a consequence, creators are doing a lot more due diligence. Background checks on advertisers have certainly become the norm for me. Instead of saying yes to every opportunity, I dig into customer reviews, potential red flags around the founders, or ongoing legal disputes.

If your reputation is on the line, it’s essential to pay close attention to who you let sponsor your content. You can’t afford to partner with disreputable companies when your audience trusts you.

It’s ironic: in a world with fewer and fewer massive gatekeepers, creators now become the gatekeepers for their own audiences. It’s not access to a profession that’s hard anymore: it’s access to someone’s carefully curated audience. Creators understand that they now have skin in the game, and their credibility is at risk with every sponsor placement.

The Changing Landscape of Online Advertising

This shift in advertising dynamics is a stark contrast to the previous practice of simply adding AdWords to a website and watching the revenue roll in. This traditional online advertising model is no longer as effective as it once was. People have become more sensitive to paid ads, to the point where they prefer tools that blatantly lie to them —something ChatGPT is known to do— over those that manipulate them with ads.

This blew my mind the first time someone expressed it to me.

And yet, I completely understand it at the same time. In my browser, I run an ad blocker. I use for my email because they don’t inject ads or allow for tracking links. I have long since replaced Google Analytics with Fathom Analytics on all my web properties.

I’ve been using ChatGPT more deliberately as a research tool ever since I understood that while I need to double-check results, they are way more likely to be presented in my interest alone. Not an advertiser’s. ChatGPT surfaces information because it fits, not because they can bill someone’s paid ads account.

And even though this is all happening in our AI aficionado bubble, it’s still showing a more significant trend.

This shift in consumer behavior should serve as a wake-up call for founders and creators when crafting their marketing strategy. Honesty, integrity, and trust are now essential components of a successful advertising campaign.

The Implications for Creators

So, what does this mean for creators? Here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Prioritize Trust and Integrity: Your reputation is your most valuable asset. Align yourself with trustworthy partners, and be selective with the sponsors you work with. A few hundred dollars for a single line of text in an email might sound extremely promising, but remember that this email will be an irremovable piece of evidence for your lack of judgment when that advertiser turns out to be a scammer.
  2. Be Transparent: In a world where trust is crucial, transparency goes a long way. In fact, it’s the only sustainable way. Be open about your partnerships and affiliations, and don’t hesitate to share the reasons behind your choices with your audience. This is a build-in-public action: sharing your reasoning for picking a sponsor shows that you know what you’re doing and demonstrates how much you value the integrity of your relationship with your readers, listeners, and viewers.
  3. Develop Authentic Relationships: Forge authentic relationships with your audience (and partners) so that your recommendations and endorsements carry more weight — or any weight at all.
  4. Be Prepared for Change: As the advertising landscape continues to evolve, be prepared to adapt and refine your strategies. Stay informed about industry trends and be ready to pivot as needed. Keep a close eye on the generative AI world and how it tries to replace traditional knowledge lookup.

The shift toward a trust-based advertising model presents new challenges and opportunities for all creative entrepreneurs. No matter how you make your money, you’ll need to keep an eye on your credibility in everything you do.

Personally, I welcome this change. As a creator, I appreciate that my audience wants me to only genuinely recommend what I would use myself. That makes it incredibly easy for me to say no to prospective sponsors — something I do on a weekly basis at this point.

And this makes it equally easy to communicate to my audience how exactly I make sure they are safe with me.

Now, obviously, this is limited to what I know about my sponsors from doing my own research. I don’t have a crystal bowl, and what is a perfectly legitimate offer today could turn into a scammy bait-and-switch tomorrow. But, at the very least, I put in the effort to protect my audience from the most egregious stuff — looking at you, pump-and-dump crypto advertisers. You won’t find that here.

The world of advertising is undergoing a significant transformation. If the result of this is that we all build stronger, more authentic connections with your audience, then I’m all for it.

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