Like any rapidly evolving marketplace, the buckets in which these various companies are placed change almost as quickly as the three-letter acronyms that succinctly describe the value each player provides to either advertisers or publishers (or both). From Agencies to Yield Optimizers, Vertical Ad Networks to Ad Exchanges, and DSPs (Demand Side Platforms) to RTB (Real-time Bidding) experts, there's no doubt that buyers and sellers are moving to a world of über-efficient media buying.
But what about that premium layer that sits above standard media units. What about those executions that marketers crave because they are truly "break through" and "high impact" in terms of their ability to connect with audiences in ways that an ultra-targeted M-Rec or 728 leader board banner just can't deliver? We should assume that while the science of digital media buying and selling continues to improve, the sponsorship value proposition will over the same span become more critical for marketers who want to make a lasting impression with digital media consumers.
So what are the important value drivers of this type of execution in a world that is becoming increasingly automated by the companies in the middle? Three key dynamics stand out as critical elements in ensuring sponsorships can be mutually successful for buyers and sellers:
1. Sponsors Need to Target the Right Audiences
Performance-based advertising is great -- it just doesn't exclusively make sense in every online audience environment. Sports publishers are in many ways the best example of an environment perfectly suited for sponsorships because users are focused on an immersive content experience that can be wrapped by branded creative that augments the standard media placements. Sports fans are also used to the notion of "Presented by"-like promotions from brands that live adjacent to sports coverage so extending that experience to online and mobile consumer interfaces is a very natural extension for advertisers.
2. Publishers Need to Create Sponsor Friendly Platforms
In some cases, digital publishers can suffer from a case of "separate brain-it is," a condition whereby content folks think about creating great content consumption experiences that are distinctly separate from integrated experiences that would smartly deliver brand messages to those same users. Digital is different from print or TV -- the advertising production experience doesn't sit completely separate from the content development effort, especially when it comes to sponsorship executions.
Building a publishing platform that considers how to deliver content experiences simultaneously with brand sponsorship experiences is crucial. A flexible, scalable publishing platform that can deliver more than standard ad units and that can deliver truly creative sponsorships will benefit from the premiums inherent in the sponsorship experience.
3. Brands and Publishers Need to Collaborate to Deliver a Great Sponsorship
Without a doubt, the element that has the biggest impact on the success of a sponsorship is the creative idea and execution of that idea. The publisher knows its product, content and consumer behavior; the marketer knows the brand's goals and how to creatively engage consumers based on demographic and psychographic profiles. Between these two experts, a dialogue can oftentimes spark an idea around which a sponsorship concept is born -- and the brand is able to capture mind share with an audience that a standard media plan can only partially achieve.
Ultimately, the success of the collaboration between a brand and publisher -- and the effectiveness of any sponsorship -- is measured on multiple levels, but none more important than whether brand equity increases in the minds of a publisher's audience.