Marketing effectively on the internet can be pretty tough.

Sure, search and email are awesome and, when done right, are two of the most accountable forms of marketing around. But ask about other forms of online marketing and you’ll probably meet more marketers who aren’t producing ROI (or who aren’t even tracking it) than you will find marketers who are.

The hard truth: consumers are increasingly skeptical of marketing messages in all mediums. On the internet, it’s real easy to block out, either mentally (ad blindness) or technologically (ad blockers).

So what is a marketer to do? According to a new study conducted by ARAnet and the Opinion Research Corporation and presented by eMarketer, consumers, especially younger ones, are most receptive to articles that mention products. Nearly 50% of the consumers surveyed said they were likely to read and take action based on an article that includes brand information.

This is especially true of young consumers; 67% of the respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 reported being likely to take action based on an article with brand mentions.

Not surprisingly, pop-up ads and banner ads didn’t fare so well; only 13% and 25% of those surveyed took action based on them, respectively. Search ads and email links did better (39% and 47% respectively) but still fall short of brand mentions.

Of course it’s not entirely surprising that brand mentions in articles are more popular with consumers than say pop-up ads. But as more and more marketers look to reach out to consumers in this fashion, it raises some thorny issues.

There’s a fine line between legitimate brand mentions and paid advertorials; already the Federal Trade Commission is scrutinizing this area for regulation. The room for scandal and consumer backlash is quite high. There’s also the question of how to scale what really is PR-based marketing. Obviously it’s easy to buy 1m banner impressions or to generate thousands of clicks per day on AdWords if you have a big budget; it’s a lot harder to acquire the same sort of reach paying for brand mentions. A lot of leg work is required.

So while consumers may prefer brand mentions and there is no doubt that ‘product placement‘ is coming to more blogs near you, matching marketers and consumers in this fashion isn’t likely to put a dent in more traditional online ad models anytime soon as far as I can tell.

Photo credit: Editor_Tupp via Flickr.