Every new ad unit introduced to the market faces the same challenge: convincing advertisers to invest the time and energy to adopt something different. Google once had to persuade buyers that text ads were worth the effort; Snapchat is today trying to do the same for vertical video. And right now, branded content is at an inflection point: There’s consensus that branded content is effective, but advertisers face trials in scaling it.
Today’s top advertisers are producing exciting branded content, too — pieces increasingly on par with the premium editorial content that surrounds it. And advertisers want their best content to be seen by as many folks as possible.
While 2017 has been called the year for native, advertisers may sometimes feel that their best creative isn’t being given a chance to perform to its full potential. But the best branded content is often the hardest to access, done via site-direct executions, exclusive to publishers and their audiences.
On the other hand, publishers’ case for exclusivity is pretty clear. If the content is produced — as premium content often is — with an in-house brand studio, it is tailored specifically for that publisher’s audience. The publisher puts resources into creating it and lends good real estate in-feed to showcase it. If the content clearly resonates, publishers guard it as they would their own content and unsurprisingly usually want to retain rights to premium branded content when they are the ones helping to produce it.
Publishers want exclusivity; advertisers want amplification. Something’s got to give, right?
For branded content to flourish and reach its full potential, there’s no other way — something will give, or else risk the only hope for both effective advertising and a sustainable revenue source. For it to live up to that promise, publishers must explore new sustainable forms of content amplification that balance their need for exclusivity with the advertisers’ needs for scale.
1. Band together: A page from programmatic
In display and video, publishers are already finding strength in numbers. Recently NBCU, Vox and Conde Nast banded together in an ad pact. Advertisers can soon benefit from this consortium so their ads can appear on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” Vox’s Eater.com and sections of Vanity Fair and Vogue. The move is just the latest of such publisher alliances, a list which also includes Nucleus, a joint initiative from newspaper giants Hearst, Gannett, McClatchy and Tribune.
Publisher cooperation is a great proposition from a brand’s point of view, but the terms for publishers can be hard to work out. Publishers are nevertheless aware of their own inventory limitations, and the risk of blowback from ad-blocking users if they load too many ads above the fold. So the once-unthinkable idea of banding with competitors is now an idea with both support and precedent.
The other major force pushing this trend is the urge to combat the Facebook-Google duopoly, against which publishers must either unite for scale or compete for scraps. Still, there is a positive force from the buy-side of the equation — and even for users — when the best branded content reaches the widest possible audience.
2. Implement a statute of limitations for content
Until publishers find a way to help advertisers extend reach, they could loosen their grips on exclusivity and negotiate rights to traffic for a piece of content for a finite period of time (the first two weeks it’s live, for example).
These days, when a publisher falls shorts on the paid media part of their contract, they go out and drive traffic to that page to meet their commitment to get pageviews. The engagement with this content is lower because the quality of the traffic is being arbitraged to meet a goal.
If the publisher were able to share revenue from executions off their site, they’d maximize their own audience’s organic attention while ensuring that any incremental impressions were of the same organic quality.
3. Expand creative ways to share the wealth
If a marketer wins complete control over their content, there’s a dizzying range of options for how to amplify it. Which one to select depends on the marketer’s objectives.
Options include a social-heavy strategy, perhaps at the hands of third-party specialists to help leverage trending topics and engage specific influencers. One can self-publish the content on a company blog and try to organically drive traffic to it; leverage a sponsored LinkedIn post; or use third-party platforms to drive content syndication with other publishers.
Social amplification driving traffic to the e-commerce site or company landing page will generate immediate results. Among brands trying to drive upper-funnel consideration, extension through publisher syndication is likely to drive the type of engagement and time on brand they’re looking for.
Content does lead to conversion — but how quickly it does so and by what means depends on a marketer’s specific campaign objectives.
Everyone is rooting for content
It’s in the publisher’s interest to find a way to make premium-branded content executions both achievable and scalable for the majority of advertisers. It’s not sustainable for publishers to overload their page with branded content or jack up their prices to prohibitive rates.
And display advertising alone is not enough to keep most publishers afloat. The sustainable balance is findable for branded, but it likely requires that publishers offer some form of extension beyond their own properties. We’re just beginning to see what that might look like.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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