Take Your Sponsorship And Shove It

Here is a recent assessment of the media landscape on the heels of the Digital Content NewFronts.  It’s typical industry coverage outside of trade publications, telling us  that digital is storming the gate of the TV castle. It’s indicative of the lack of innovation at what was otherwise an extremely successful Digital Content NewFronts, because it frames everything in the shadow of television. And that is precisely the feeling I had when departing New York and the NewFronts. (Full disclosure: DigitasLBi is a founding partner of the Digital Content NewFronts.)

I came away thinking that  digital media publishers believe wholly in video, but that in an ever-increasing way they are both creating it and presenting it like television content.  And of course they are trying to sell it like television content.  Hulu literally jettisoned the name NewFront.  Yahoo is creating daily, live music performances -- and what could be more like television than tune-in, daily content?  Vevo had a post-production enabled product placement tool to sell.  With rare exceptions, everything at the NewFronts walked, talked, and quacked like TV. 



Don’t get me wrong: I love all of this new content, the inherent competitive and symbiotic relationship with digital publishers and TV, and the data that informs content and provides insights to consumer behaviors. And of course I enjoy observing digital publishers’ Sisyphean attempts at crossing the cultural relevance divide between TV and native digital.  But the more the conversation is framed as a shift in ad dollars, the more we perpetuate the notion of similarity between TV and digital video.  And when we do that, we are ignoring the innumerable advantages of digital. 

The original vision of digital content included uses as a two-way communication device, a strategic collector of totally new and unique data sets, and a targeting machine that would be the envy of any military outfit.  In short, it’s completely different from all other previous forms of media. But in our race to compete with TV, we have increasingly replaced digital uniqueness with arcane TV tactics.

The result is less innovation and more static behavior, with publishers, brands, and agencies replicating their advertising across channels. It’s unclear to me why the bulk of content and advertising in digital is still framed by a random set of length deliverables (:10, :15, and :30) ,when it’s delivered by a totally different experience.

The Sponsorship Question

TV was built on sponsorship with meaning: entire programs truly brought to you by a single brand, and the brand became an integral part of the series.  The message, the content, and the brand were inextricably linked.  Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” built credibility and status for itself and its title sponsor in a meaningful, consistent, and committed way.  But today, in both TV and digital, sponsorship is often a meaningless attachment that accrues little long-term value for a brand, and therefore provides a limited halo effect and context for brand values. 

Digital content has its own version of sponsorship.  It has strayed far from unique, interactive experiences and migrated to a lowest common denominator of pure sponsorship -- perhaps fine for TV scale, but unlikely to gain traction in the attention economy.  Digital publishers need to find a way to make a more meaningful connection than “100% share of voice” on a destination that they practically beg users to visit, upon which any brand can be inserted, and which lacks an integrated brand experience.

Digital video offers an opportunity for brands to step up and deliver meaningful content that more deeply connects to their values and consumer emotions. Media publishers need to separate the impression and reach sale (TV) from an interactive, engaging sale (native digital), and give agencies and brands a reason to participate.

One way to deal with this issue is with native content – one of the best digital opportunities, but perhaps one of the most difficult to achieve.  Because so much content consumption today takes place in the newsfeed environment of mobile, original, amazing content is critical.  The difficulty is that native means that your ad looks and feels like editorial content -- which is useful in one sense, but also decreases the connection of the brand to the content. 

The opportunity for brands is to step in and create their own content that solves the problem of being a disposable appendage to the headline content.  And ultimately, the opportunity for publishers is to have another go at creating content with brand partners that is emotionally appealing, that strongly connects the consumer to the brand and its values, and that drives consumer engagement.

5 comments about "Take Your Sponsorship And Shove It ".
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  1. tracy collins from Total Income Online, May 19, 2014 at 2:38 p.m.

    I think it is crazy

  2. Javier Quintero from d exposito & Partners, May 19, 2014 at 2:42 p.m.

    After coming off a few "new" fronts, I felt the same way. There are so many opportunities to use digital campaigns (both web & mobile) as a two-way communication tool to not only send a message but receive real time data as to how your consumers respond. Despite that feeling of same old, I do think certain players are taking steps to create unique experiences inside and outside of computer/smartphone screens which not only provide real value to consumers but do so in a way that makes sense. I think part of the problem is that publishers have become voice boxes for brands vs being connectors of culture to relay a real and meaningful message.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 19, 2014 at 3:06 p.m.

    Commitment. The reasons can be blurred.

  4. Ruth Barrett from, May 19, 2014 at 3:22 p.m.

    And don't forget specialized search engines to original and aggregated video content as a sub-domain customized to your look/feel. Context, content, curation and a sponsorship platform just like Google - keyword/phrase driven.

  5. Dan Ciccone from MEDIAFICIONADO, May 19, 2014 at 4:54 p.m.

    In my experience, agencies and clients are holding digital publishers/content creators to antiquated metrics and unrealistic pricing. Always asking for "never been done before" (and really, when was the last time you saw "never been done before in TV"), and product integration, and simultaneously demanding lower rates. They hold digital to an unrealistic standard, yet demand accountability based on old metrics.

    Digital does offer integration and sponsorship that was reminiscent of TV in its infancy. What it cannot do is offer integration and sponsorship at bargain basement prices while being accountable to metrics that are often beyond the publisher's control. Innovation comes through investment.

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