At some point in recent years, many of us have likely clicked on what we thought would be an interesting article only to discover that it was a paid advertisement in editorial guise. Content marketing is not a new concept, but it’s becoming an increasingly popular strategy for media companies and brands to team up on new ways to drive revenue. According to Pew Research Center, sponsored content increased by 56% in 2011 and is still on the rise.
Edelman’s Chief Content Officer Steve Rubel stresses that sponsored “content is no longer optional. It’s imperative.” At BRITE ’13 Rubel explains, “It’s hard now to amass large audiences the way you used to. And that means money problems for everyone.” He notes, however, that “out of economic disruption come great opportunities.” Rubel says that display advertising has become less lucrative in recent years, and can even drive down CPM. Content marketing, on the other hand, is a fraction of the cost with the potential for greater results.
Consider Wine Enthusiast magazine. Sure it’s a media company, but it’s also a brand. By incorporating custom content, Wine Enthusiast successfully increased site traffic by 154% and boosted monthly email opt-ins by 50%. Director of Internet Marketing Erika Strum tells MarketingSherpa:
We put time into creating… content that helps people either make a buying decision or entertains them. Even if they aren’t making that purchase in the moment, we feel that they will come back to us as a… source of information.
Rubel has identified three ways that brands are partnering with media companies—syndication, integration, and co-creation. These partnerships borrow from traditional marketing models like paid media and product placement, but they now overlap with owned and earned media as an additional driver of revenue.
- Syndication: Rubel describes this method as “advertorial reinvented.” Sometimes the sponsor scripts the content, sometimes the publisher assumes this role, and sometimes they work together to design content.
- Integration: Similar to syndication, integration stems from product placement. But rather than placing a product within eyeline (think Wayne’s World) the brand becomes part of the narrative (think Mad Men).
- Co-creation: The primary difference with co-creation is that the sponsor provides the funding, but the media company takes responsibility for the content. Rubel likens this to a sports stadium. Gillette bought the naming rights to the home stadium of the New England Patriots, but Kraft Sports Group, which owns and operates the venue, is responsible for the action on the field. Okay, okay, “action” may not be what non-New Englanders would call it. But you get the point.
While many media companies have embraced sponsored content, some are still resistant. Google for one refers to this as “commerce journalism” and explicitly states on its website:
Stick to the news–we mean it! Google News is not a marketing service…. [If] we find non-news content mixed with news content, we may exclude your entire publication from Google News.
As with anything, there are associated risks. It can offer control of content, data and measurement, and opportunities for innovation. But there is the potential for backlash. You may recall this past January The Atlantic issued an apology for posting a content piece from the Church of Scientology. Readers complained that it resembled a traditional editorial, not clearly identifying that it was a sponsored article. “We screwed up,” were the words of The Atlantic‘s media relations team.
Rubel emphasizes, though, that sponsored content isn’t going away, at least not any time soon. He advises businesses to adapt to this marketing model. “You have to put a content engine inside your company. If it’s not there already, you have to think about how to get it in there.”
What do you think?
Watch Rubel’s BRITE ’13 talk to learn more about the benefits, and the risks, of these new media-brand relationships.
By ALLIE ABODEELY