OPA Intelligence Reports

Posted in News on 10/22/2012 By Mark Glaser & Courtney Lowery Cowgill

Is branded content the future?

When Atlantic Media launched its new business publication, Quartz, it did so with a different kind of advertising in mind – with sponsors who also got to publish branded content directly into the main news stream. It’s not a particularly new idea. “Advertorial” has been around a long time, but it’s starting to gain a newfound prominence with online publishers. Business Insider recently announced it will join Atlantic Media, BuzzFeed, Gawker and Forbes in offering advertisers an opportunity to brand content on its site. Business Insider has offered sponsored posts before, but this campaign is bigger than that. With “Brand Insider” advertisers can sponsor videos, slideshows and even set up their own blogs within the regular Business Insider site. Pete Spande, who is heading up the effort, tells AdAge’s Jason Del Rey, “Very often there’s work being done that might be living on [a brand’s] YouTube channel … We’re able to give brands the spotlight to get that content seen by a large audience.” Business Insider’s president and COO Julie Hansen hopes that in a couple years, branded content could account for half of the site’s total revenue. The site has a projected revenue of $12 million for this year, most of which comes from traditional ads.

What’s key at Business Insider, just as it is with BuzzFeed, is the shareability of its content. The basic premise is that ads that get shared by friends are more effective and both Business Insider and particularly BuzzFeed are great at finding just the right cocktail that makes content on their sites shareable – viral even. Take for instance one of the first pieces of branded content: a video from Jack Daniel’s. In a month, it’s been shared more than 100 times. But even if branded content is the future, financially, is it viable journalistically? Meaning, does it blur the lines just a little too much? That’s a question that made for an interesting exchange at a panel discussion in San Francisco sponsored by the MPA, the Association of Magazine Media. Forbes Media managing editor Bruce Upbin and Bloomberg Businessweek editor-in-chief Josh Tyrangiel discussed Forbes’ branded content program, “BrandVoice.” According to Keith Kelly’s report in the New York Post, Upbin defended the program, saying marketers often have valuable content to share and that “editors have to ‘give up’ the idea that they are only ones who are smart enough to control content on the web.” Tyrangiel had a different take. “Is it the end of Western civilization? No, but I would not call that journalism,” he said. And “it’s mingling with content that’s supposed to be independent.”