Yahoo's Latest Content Wager: Odds Are An Even Split

When news broke that Yahoo would buy Tumblr for $1.1B, a range of reactions could be heard from all directions among speculators, marketers and users. The voices ranged from measured, analytical calm (facts, figures, how David Karp will spend that extra allowance money) to meek reassurance (Flickr did this and Flickr’s still okay, kind of) to full-on, high-pitched anxiety attack (you can most likely find all of those people now blogging through Wordpress).

Whatever your initial reaction, it’s safe to say that no one knows how this venture will turn out (no one ever does). But the deal itself speaks volumes for how far digital advertising has evolved -- and it’s worth a closer look, especially for brand managers interested in reaching a millennial audience. 

Display, native or both

For simplicity’s sake, let’s break digital advertising into groups: the old guard and the new. The old guard (Yahoo, Facebook) has been more or less steadfast in its use of display advertising. The new guard (Twitter, BuzzFeed, Tumblr) wants to see very light display advertising and prefers ads delivered by way of Trojan horse, through sponsored or “native” content. Both guards have access to a massive audience base, but identifying who is lining up behind each is the key to predicting success. The audience of the old guard skews older and the new guard is, well, new. How new? 18-24 new.



Courting the young, changing the old

In the long run, the younger, trend-hopping audience of the new guard will largely dictate our collective path --  they are, after all, the consumers of our future. Is there a place for banner ads among a generation that has become accustomed to learning about men’s deodorant through viral videos or a fast-food restaurant chain via a “Top 10 List of People Who Look Like Pizza”? BuzzFeed doesn’t think so -- and it has the click-through rates to prove it.

But it’s the shifting perspective of the old guard that is really telling. Facebook -- which teens are fleeing from or avoiding like the plague -- maintains its use of display ads but has increasingly turned its focus and attention to sponsored post units. Facebook-owned property Instagram, still licking its wounds from its terms-of-use snafu earlier this year, insists that advertising units will not be intrusive or detract from the content experience.

Pinterest has remained largely mum on the subject (advertising? What advertising?) choosing instead to slowly roll out functionality that does their monetization talking for them -- functionality that definitely skews more toward native than traditional display. Yahoo is heavily invested in traditional digital advertising, but it’s also courting that millennial audience. So they have turned to Tumblr where they promise a combination of both light advertising for those who want it, and native content. The old guard attempts to leapfrog evolution by swallowing the new guard whole.

Content with value

There are endless conversations to be had about where brands can and should shift their attention online. Sooner or later, all roads will lead to content. And the word that is most assuredly associated with content is “value.” Regardless of where your brand is now, it’s never too early to think about the value behind your content. Value is non-negotiable -- it must be strategically on-point. It must be useful. It must entertain, awe or stump. It must be good. This is what millennials are experiencing now, through powerhouse sites like BuzzFeed, and more importantly, what they are responding to in droves. 

For brands and brand managers, the call has been sounded: start evolving now if you haven’t already. Now is the time to nail down your killer content strategy because once more brands double-down on their own investment in native advertising, it will become that much harder to be heard by the right audience.

Who knows -- your brand’s sponsored story could be featured on Yahoo’s home page even sooner than you might think.  

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