News this week that content-sharing website Upworthy will launch native ads should make people in the brand publishing sphere sit up and pay attention.
Upworthy Collaborations (as the ad programme will be known) is another example of a major online publisher turning to native advertising as a key revenue source. Over the past year, native advertising has creeped its way into the advertising business models of a number of blue chip publishers, including the New York Times, which debuted the ads in January this year, and the Wall Street Journal, which launched its own version in March.
This should not be surprising. Native advertising takes brand closer to where they want to be – the editorial; the content that people actually read and share. For publishers, on the other hand, native ads are a commercial reality. The Wall Street Journal, for example, adopted the format only six months after its editor-in-chief described native advertising as a “Faustian pact”. In a world of shrinking print margins, though, a deal with the devil is often inevitable.
What is especially interesting about the Upworthy launch — and this I believe could be a crucial turning point for brand publishing — is that the company has been clear that it will only publish content that is relevant to its audience, as opposed to what it calls “garish advertorials”.
Unlike many publishers, particularly those from a more traditional publishing background, Upworthy is not quite so obsessed with protecting the division between editorial content and native ads (see just how seriously this is taken by the New York Times). Instead, its starting point is that all paid content must fit in with Upworthy’s overall editorial line. Or as an Upworthy representative put it: “You will see tasteful sponsorships, clearly disclosed promotional content, and excellent curation around topics that both the brand and Upworthy believe in deeply.”
If Upworthy knows anything about online publishing, it is how to drive traffic, so this is advice that should be heeded. Put simply: don’t just create content, create the right kind of content for the audience you are targeting.
Expect more of these kind of brand publishing opportunities in the coming months. Commercial considerations aside, publishers are realising that when done right, brand publishing can create great content and is of value to their readers.
For brands to operate successfully in this environment, they will need a stronger commitment to content that has integrity, objectivity and relevance. This is easier said than done, but with a well defined publishing strategy, led by a professional editorial team, it is an achievable goal.
Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick