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Time Inc. study reveals consumers are open to custom content as a way for brands to connect

Two in three consumers have greater trust in custom content than traditional advertising, according to a new comprehensive study conducted by Time Inc. aimed to understand how audiences respond to and engage with custom content. In addition to trust, the study, which garnered insights from over 17,000 GenZ, Millennials and Gen X respondents, reveals that custom content is perceived as thoughtful and provides value.

The study results include the following insights:

  • 90 per cent like the idea of custom content as a way for brands to engage them    
  • 89 per cent believe custom content is a great way for brands to break through the clutter

“Our study shows that consumers are very open to custom content as a more relevant, creative and interesting way for brands to connect,” said Chris Hercik, senior vice president, creative and content, The Foundry, Time Inc. “At the Foundry, we think of consumers’ needs and desires throughout the design process to create campaigns that are engaging and thought-provoking.”  

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With little published research on custom content, the qualitative and quantitative study generated responses from an audience of over 17,000.

More study highlights include: 

  • 93 per cent like brands sharing interesting things they may not have otherwise seen       
  • 92 per cent believe brands have expertise on topics and add value to content
  • 57 per cent feel the brand put more thought into being creative and interesting 
  • 56 per cent like that brands are not just trying to sell, but are sharing something cool or teaching them 
  • 56 per cent appreciate brands that partner with sources they trust

“In order for brands to offer more credible, connected and valued content and help successfully drive KPIs through native experiences, we have created a best practice called the B-cubed Principle: Be Relevant, Be Distinct and Be on Brand,” explained Chris Schraft, president, Foundry Content Sales and Agency Development. “Be Relevant means know your audience and align your brand story with their needs and interests. Be Distinct reinforces the importance for the brand to take center stage and offer unique, differentiated value by entertaining, informing or providing utility. Be on Brand is about making sure the brand is organically woven into the content narrative and speaks in a tone that resonates with consumers.”

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GenZ respondents seem particularly open to deepening their relationships with brands. Study insights specific to the GenZ respondents include: 

  • 93 per cent want to see brands do something new, unique or creative to get their attention
  • For 88 per cent, custom content feels like a great way for new brands GenZ hasn’t heard of to reach them
  • 84 per cent agree that custom content is a way for brands to engage them
  • GenZ wants native content to leverage digital’s capabilities to better connect with brands – 72 per cent want video and infographics to better explore the story or data


The study leveraged the scale and depth of a Gen Z, Millennial and Gen X audience. Time Inc. hosted online communities of about 200 Auto Buffs, Fashionistas, Foodies and Finance Gurus. The Company then surveyed about 17,000 US consumers in these categories to get their take on if and how custom content resonates, what best practices are and what consumers want to see from brands based on over a dozen campaigns.

Time Inc. is a member of FIPP.

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