The Fine Line Between Sponsored Content & Advertising

The rise of sponsored content has been in the news a lot lately, with big brands like Unilever and Goldman Sachs announcing the creation of their own in-house content studios. Marketers understand that the way people interact with advertising has changed, especially in a world where the use of ad-blocking technology continues to rise, and that consumers are more apt to proactively seek out interesting content than to click on irrelevant advertising.

Most sponsored content, however, is currently masking pure advertising as editorial or even worse, using editorial, in-stream positioning to deliver off-message advertising. That being said, when done right, contextual, sponsored content and even native content can be the most effective advertising on the page.  So how do we maintain the trust of our audience as publishers, but also create new uncharted ground, to deliver un-blockable and relevant, in-feed brand messaging?

To be blunt, the responsibility of getting this right does not fall on the commercial teams at most publishing operations, but should be owned by editorial.  Journalists hold the responsibility of delivering content that their audience wants to read, consume and share – whether sponsored content or editorial.  



In order for sponsored content to be successful, the content needs to be entertaining, useful and resonate with the audience, weaving brand messaging into content in an authentic manner -- something that only those in charge of editorial can truly own.  Sponsored content should be viewed as an additive contribution or as a way to share differentiated expertise in order to engage the audience beyond the article.  After all, interesting content is still interesting content, whether created for a brand or purely for editorial purposes.

Taking sponsored content one step further, social interactive formats can often provide an even more authentic brand experience, creating consumer dialogue versus a one-way conversation. While it may not deliver traffic to the brand marketer’s site, interactive content like polls, trivia and even voting widgets can still embody brand messaging, actually resonating more with consumers and delivering brand health metrics without enticing an unwarranted click.

We’ve come a long way from the old-school advertorial, but it’s essential to establish guidelines as paid commercial content continues to grow and evolve. Maintaining user trust must still be the most important takeaway when developing content. While the monetization opportunity is clear, it should not come at the expense of user experience -- or, even worse, the sacrifice of editorial credibility.

1 comment about "The Fine Line Between Sponsored Content & Advertising".
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  1. Roger Wu from Cooperatize, October 13, 2016 at 5:03 p.m.

    Great points here. The easiest way to ensure that the message is on point is to attach a minimum engagement guarantee to each piece of content. The content by itself is not helpful to the brand if no one sees it!

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