But one of Paid Post’s first offerings, in June, 2014, helped quiet internal critics and also drew praise from the advertising community as a case study of how blue-chip native advertising should be done. Produced by the Times’ in-house custom-content army T Brand Studio, this savvy effort was sponsored by Netflix for “Orange is the New Black.” A 1.500-word narrative about women behind bars, it used key tools from the digital toolbox, including video and top-flight interactive charts, and drew tens of thousands of views.
Soon a host of advertisers were reaching out to the Times, including Cole Haan, Goldman Sachs and Shell -- and all received the same high level of multimedia production.
By year's end, Times brass were touting Paid Posts as key to helping increase digital revenues by 16.5% in the third quarter. The publication's advertising execs also boasted that some of these native ads were reaching levels of audience engagement on par with the paper’s reportage.
Still the Times needed data to sell its story, so in conjunction with Chartbeat it released research this week that not only hopes to sell Paid Post, but to turbo-charge T Brand Studios.
According to the study, T Brand Studio-produced content generated 361% more unique visitors and 526% more time spent than advertising content produced by outside agencies. On Facebook and Twitter, T Brand Studio content outperformed advertiser-produced content by 1,613% and 504%, respectively. Google visits to T Brand Studio-produced content exceeded visits to advertiser-produced content by 632%.
This is data meant to wow. The message is that the best way to go native with the Times is to go all-the-way native with T Brand.
The Chartbeat/Times data puts the weight of an establishment news brand behind in-house, ripping a page from such successful upstarts as Vice, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. This is a “have your cake and eat it too” strategy. Tellingly, there are key players on the T Brand team that have roots at BuzzFeed and HuffPo.
The how-to alchemy of making a credible native advertising effort without cheapening a news operations brand is pretty straight-forward: Put up a thin church and state wall between editorial and in-house advertising production, but share the institutional knowledge of your audience's sensibility. In the case of the Times, that means copywriters and producers who come to the task with solid journo cred. Voila, the advertising produced by the in-house agency will exceed the efficacy of a third-party production.