Online advertising trends: all kinds of collaborative (thumb)
Businesses looking to either buy or sell online advertising should check out this NetNewsCheck article about a talk given by BuzzFeed’s executive director of social publishing, David Spiegel. BuzzFeed is currently the envy of online journalism (and possibly general journalism) because they are one of the few companies in the industry who are flourishing.

Speaking at the Online News Association’s annual conference, Spiegel outlined BuzzFeed’s approach to the idea of “native ads”, where a publication collaborates with an advertiser to create sponsored content. The challenge is to justify the advertiser’s investment, meeting their marketing objectives, while not alienating the publication’s readership with salesy content. As Spiegel explained, this needs to be a collaborative, agency-style approach. It has proven extremely effective for BuzzFeed.

The article got me thinking about the co-branded ad concept we’ve developed for past online clients. Co-branding operates in the same field as BuzzFeed’s native ads. In our case, however, I wasn’t able to pick and choose campaigns: the sales team sold the concept and brought home a check. Then, our two teams (design and sales) collaborated to propose a co-branded sub-site that both promoted the client and served our users. Our campaigns were hugely successful, both for our site and for the advertiser. Each sale commanded more dollars as we documented and presented successive campaign results.

Think differently before attempting to advertise differently

Both native ads and co-branded sub-sites are part of a larger trend that may help the publishing industry sustain itself as digital and social media continue to evolve. This trend is also an important vehicle for businesses who are wrestling with the potentials and pitfalls of online advertising. Looking back at what worked for our project, the most successful campaigns were those in which:

  1. at least one key person at the client company or their agency understood and was excited about the co-brand concept.
  2. they communicated clear objectives for the campaign.
  3. they had organized assets and a responsive team member to help us find them, which helped us discover content that would benefit the campaign.
  4. they had lightweight, embeddable interactive tools that were truly useful to someone who might use their product, or something similar.
  5. they had at least some community focused features on their site that we could tap.
  6. their brand transcended mere logo and advertising guidelines to values, vitality and authenticity.

The last item may be the most interesting, though it may seem pointless to a company that hasn’t yet dug deeper into brand. Consider that the author’s example of a successful native ad campaign is one sponsored by Virgin Mobile, a company that has invested a great deal in deep branding. Still, going from our experience, I’d say if your company has any three of the six elements above, your thoughtful co-brand or native ad campaign will probably succeed.

The point of native ads, co-branding and other flavors of collaborative and socially focused online advertising is that both advertiser and publisher work together, and creatively share content (including copy, interactive features, imagery, etc.) that is authentic and valuable to the audience. A strong journalistic website will have, in addition to robust search traffic, an invested audience with whom they’ve built credibility. It’s in their interests, and the interests of any advertiser with whom they partner, to approach that audience with creativity and care. Marketers have been theorizing that consumers really are more sophisticated now, and more skeptical, and that sellers must engage transparently and genuinely in order to survive. Successes like these appear to be proving the theories true.

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