Online news articles are the source most likely to drive product awareness and purchases among consumers, beating out advertisements, branded content, influencer recommendations and even social media posts from friends and family, according to a recent report by digital PR and content marketing agency BMV.

BMV’s report, which sought to gauge how and where brands are driving consumer awareness and engagement in today’s digital landscape, discovered that despite a shift in recent years by brands and agencies away from earned media and toward digital advertising—and despite spending an estimated $628.63 billion on advertising in 2018—digital advertisements still take a backseat to positive news coverage or an editorial story focusing on a product or service.

Online news

Nearly a third (30 percent) of U.S. consumers said media coverage is typically where they learn about new consumer products and services. Social media or online advertisements came in a close second—29 percent—for their ability to drive awareness and shape consumers’ buying decisions. 17 percent said they discover new products and services online by reading social media posts from friends or family, followed by branded content (13 percent). And despite achieving near-constant buzz in recent years, only 11 percent said they hear about new products and services from industry influencers.

Consumers belonging to the Baby Boomer generation were most likely to acknowledge gaining awareness of a consumer products via seeing it featured in news coverage (47 percent). Members of the Millennial and Gen Z generations, on the other hand, were more likely to learn about new consumer products from social media and/or digital advertisements (35 percent).

The BMV report also found that consumers view brands’ owned social media content as a form of entertainment. About a third of consumers (32 percent) admitted following branded social media content because they find it interesting and engaging. Among members of the Millennial and Gen Z generations, that number is even higher (39 percent).

More than a quarter (26 percent) said they also turn to a company’s social media content when they’re about to purchase a product or service.

The report also found that more than half (58 percent) of consumers polled said they at least sometimes trust what a company or brand has to say about its products/services on its owned channels more than what a reporter says about that company in a news article. 42 percent said they rarely or never trust what a company says about themselves on its owned channels more than what’s reported in a news article.

BMV's “Awareness, Engagement & Action Index” report surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers online during the first half of 2019. Research was conducted using online survey development software company Survey Monkey.