feed the feed

It’s no secret that the world of digital advertising is a bit of mess.

Traditional advertising methods just don’t work the same way online. Web readers have developed ‘banner blindness’ that keeps them from seeing display ads and most people have ad-blockers that keep pop-ups away from their sight entirely.

Publishers are always trying new ways to get around this – and some of them are even successful – but the big winner is sponsored content.

It’s not a new idea – in fact, it stems from the same concept as your basic TV commercial: this programming/event/thing-you-like? We also like it and it likes us, too.

In addition to associating your ad with something that people already like, this fact remains:

The best way to get your advertising seen is to get it into the content feed that people are already watching.

Going Native

Sponsored content can take many forms – an ad in the middle of a podcast or a logo promoting the advertiser as a source of funding for a popular event – but by far the most successful sponsored content is ‘native advertising.’

A native advertisement is one that matches the environment in which it is found: a video among videos or a post among blog posts.

If it matches the content that surrounds it, the ad can easily slip into the reader’s awareness without all of the suspicion and disinterest that more blatant advertising can arouse.

There are two forms that native advertising most commonly take: product reviews and relevant subject-matter articles. 

Identifying Markers

A sponsored product review can be identified in a number of ways. Often the post will simply have a header that informs the reader that the writer was paid to review the product (and usually an assurance that the review is, nevertheless, unbiased).

One of the other ways to post a sponsored product review is best exemplified by The Fisherman Magazine. The Fisherman has a handful of what they call “product partners”. Their website has a page dedicated to those partners, with links to the content that deals with their products.

The reviews or other related content, displays branding from the product partner, but in every other respect, those articles are identical to their unsponsored brethren.

Please note the one way in which sponsored content should not be identifiable: it should not differ in format, value, or substance from your non-sponsored content.

Sponsored serials

The other main form of native advertising is often an article (or to really make it worth your advertisers’ while, a series of articles) that deals with the advertiser’s products or interests in a relevant way.

Over the last few years, The Atlantic Magazine has done a great series in conjunction with Nest’s lineup of smart home products.

The articles are everything you expect from The Atlantic: well-researched, thoughtful pieces on the nature of sanctuary and the definition of a neighborhood, but delving into the effect that connected homes and devices are having and will continue to have on what it means to live in community.

Connected with each article are pictures and descriptions of the products discussed, video interviews with product users, relevant quotes from the team at Nest.

And at the top, there is a discreet header that says, simply, “Crafted by The Atlantic’s marketing team and paid for by Nest.”

It’s a brilliant example of what sponsored content should be: just like all your other content.

Because here’s the deep dark secret behind successful sponsored content: you, the publisher, have to be passionate about the topic – the products or services – you’re promoting.

Just like with all your other content, your readers can sense your sincerity. The advertisers are relying on the trust and interest you’ve built with your audience to make their products shinier. And the more time you spend talking about the product, the more chances your readers have to tell if you’re being disingenuous.

So your best bet is to partner with companies you can be genuinely enthusiastic about. That way, everyone wins. The advertisers get valuable exposure to your readers, your readers get to learn more about something you care about, and you, well, you get that beautiful advertising revenue without sacrificing your readers’ loyalty.

Want to know more about how sponsored content can increase your revenue? Let’s talk.