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Why The New York Times’ Sponsored Content Is Going Toe-to-Toe With Its Editorial

Can a native ad be as engaging as editorial content on The New York Times? The notion might seem like the stuff of a content marketer’s fever dream, but T Brand Studio—the custom content studio within the advertising department of the Times—is making pigs fly.

Earlier this month, The New York Times released the results of a study on the effectiveness of its native advertising platform, known as Paid Posts. Conducted in conjunction with real-time web analytics company Chartbeat, the study used metrics like unique visitors, active time on a page, and visits from Facebook, Twitter, and Google to gauge content performance from January to December of 2014.

Paid Posts created by T Brand Studio were compared with posts produced by advertisers and editorial content from the Times and other sites.

When measured against Paid Posts created by third-party advertisers, T Brand Studio-produced content was found to generate 361 percent more unique visitors and 526 percent more time spent with the post. But when evaluated against editorial content—articles with no advertiser affiliation at all—some T Brand Studio Paid Posts incited as much engagement as high-performing articles that run on

In relation to the 100 largest sites analyzed by Chartbeat, and each of their 1,000 most-visited articles, half of the Paid Posts produced by T Brand Studio last year outperformed editorial content.

“We’ve noted for quite some time that great stories can come from anywhere, and certainly from brands,” says Michael Zimbalist, SVP Advertising Products and Research & Development with The New York Times. “This is part of the proof point that audiences will engage with great content regardless of its provenance, provided they have a sense of where it’s coming from.”

“We might say the objective of paid content is to deliver on some marketing goal, but we also want it to be good content,” says Josh Schwartz, Chief Data Scientist with Chartbeat. “The reason we can compare benchmarking against editorial is that we think paid content should be just as engaging.”

The study comes at a crucial time. Zimbalist’s claim that consumers won’t discriminate against quality branded content is a bet that media companies are making the world over by establishing content studios. Among the latest companies to form in-house native ad development groups are Condé NastiHeartMedia, and CBS Interactive.

So far, however, research on branded content has delivered mixed results. By some accounts, the level of trust consumers feel toward branded content is in the same range as content produced by publishers. That said, consumers have also reported they’re “concerned” about preserving objective journalism, with 6 out of 10 saying sponsored content hurts publisher credibility.

Why, then, are consumers responding so favorably to native ads like those produced by T Brand Studio? One factor, Zimbalist says, is the democratization of publishing tools and distribution platforms. With content now as likely to be produced by a blogger or a brand as by a publisher, the publishing industry has effectively been equalized. Consumers are learning they can get quality storytelling through untraditional means.

BI Intelligence and the Interactive Advertising Bureau report that native advertising will generate $21 billion in ad spending by 2018—more than four times that of 2013. In its 2015 Digital and Media Predictions report, research firm Millward Brown says the key to getting native ads right is to prioritize transparency, match the publisher’s editorial tone, and produce content that speaks to readers. In other words, native ads must be tailor-made for each site’s unique user base.

In the case of the Times, the posts that produced the highest levels of engagement were documentary-style in nature, offering a behind-the-scenes look at a unique environment: think profiles of New York City Ballet dancers, like those in the Cole Haan-sponsored Grit and Grace, or the popular Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work. Though the latter was commissioned by Netflix to promote the series “Orange is the New Black,” Women Inmates ranked within’s top 1,000 articles last year.

In its capacity to develop posts that outperform those made by advertisers, T Brand Studio’s publisher perspective helps as well. “We’re producing content separate and distinct from our editorial newsroom, but we’re using similar tools and storytelling techniques, because we know they’re effective with The New York Times audience,” Zimbalist explains.

Publishers that hope to achieve similar results should suss out what resonates with their readers in a similar way. “If we’re going to take away a conclusion,” says Schwartz, “it’s that content produced by people who are experienced at it—who think about both venue and audience—is content that’s more likely to engage.”

The New York Times study is the first of its kind for Chartbeat, but with marketers eager to quantify their native ad investments, it’s generating a lot of interest. “We reached a point in 2014 when native as a concept really blew up,” Schwartz says. “Now folks are taking a look at budgets to see how the campaigns they paid a premium dollar for really did.”

As they do, they can take with them the knowledge that high-performing branded content is no longer just a dream.

From Contently; Written by Tessa Wegert Image by Chameleon's Eye


Study: People Are Not Most Attentive When Watching TV at Home; Better recall on smartphones

We live in what could be called the Age of Distraction. According to Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn, our average attention span today is 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds over a decade ago. For comparison, a goldfish—yes, a goldfish—has a 9 second attention span.

Part of this comes from an increasingly complex digital landscape. The proliferation of devices and content conspire to drive consumers to distraction. As a result, many brands have turned to mastering the six second Vine video.

The problem with this approach is that it fails to consider context. Reach and frequency have long been the standard metrics in advertising, despite the fact that devices, platforms and content are not created equal.

YuMe, a multi-screen video advertising technology company, makes a good case that a better strategy for brands is to shift their marketing focus to understanding and harnessing attention to ensure they are reaching the right people at the right time.

In a survey and online virtual lab experiment in partnership with IPG Media Lab, YuMe collected feedback from over 7,000 respondents to illuminate what drives their attention and what influences their receptivity to advertising across multiple categories. Results seen in the infographic below show that while fragmentation is rampant, consumers are watching all forms of digital video content across all devices pretty much all the time.

The difference in a consumer’s ability to focus on a message may have a lot to do with where she is when that message is served up. Contrary to conventional wisdom, reaching people at home on a TV isn’t necessarily when they’re the most attentive. In fact, a smartphone led to greater message recall—41 percent versus 39 percent for tablet and 37 percent for desktop.

Smartphones trump desktop computers for receptivity to ads, especially when the viewer is at school or work (sorry, boss). Overall, a highly attentive audience was shown to boost purchase intent by 23 percent and overall favorability by 14 percent.

This is good news for brands currently struggling with how to boil a message down to a tiny video spot. Succeeding as attention spans dwindle is more about optimizing around attentive audiences, not just by demographics or content genres.

  Article Contributed by Adweek - By Lydia Dishman


Article Contributed by Adweek - By Lydia Dishman

Why Short-Term Content Campaigns Are Doomed to Fail

There’s a cliché about branded content that holds a lot of truth: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” After all, it takes a fair amount of time for most every publisher to build a loyal audience. But for brands accustomed to running—and budgeting for—quick-burst, three- to four-month campaigns, switching to a marathon mindset can be a challenge.

That same challenge extends to agencies, too, which were long built to help brands sprint. But now, some agencies and custom-content studios run by publishers are requiring brands to commit to a content push for at least four months, if not a year or longer—though that isn’t an industry standard by any means.

“Agencies sometimes like to think in short numbers,” says Gabe Garner, the SVP of digital development at Firstborn, a New York City-based agency. “Though, if it’s on a three- to four-month cycle, that might be a sign of budgetary issues with the brand. But, even if you don’t have the budget, a brand should have a longer [content plan] of at least six months.”

The reason? Content campaigns need a fair amount of time to gain traction, and once that starts to happen, you need the requisite resources to continue to publish consistently and build momentum.

“The idea is to create a valuable channel for a brand and for them to communicate with their consumer, while increasing the likelihood of people returning to that later,” says Garner. And once they do return, there needs to be fresh content to keep their attention.

Garner gives the example of for Keds, an ongoing branded Tumblr launched in early 2013 that his agency helped Keds build and sustain.

“When working on a platform like Tumblr, there’s a need for lots of content,” says Garner. “You can’t just put it up and drive media to it. You have to keep adding content to it to increase the chance of it getting shared. If you invest in content on the platform, it pays dividends over time, as it continues to get shared beyond the content cycle that they’re on.”

That continued stream of content on Tumblr has continued to build Keds’ social presence over the last year and a half, aiding the brand’s goal of capturing the attention of teen girls.

This isn’t only true for branded content sites. Forbes, which requires a four-month commitment for sponsored campaigns on its BrandVoice platform, typically sees high growth during the third month of a branded content campaign.

“While every program varies, monthly pageviews on average increase 102 percent between the first month and the third month of a program,” says Claire Robinson,Forbes’ senior director of brand media production. “And the average pageviews a month for ongoing programs are 212 percent higher than the average pageviews a month for the first three months of a program.”

It makes sense to plan for the long haul not only from an audience growth standpoint, but also from a financial one. It’s simply cheaper and more efficient to grow with the same content team over time.

“There is efficiency in trust, when it comes to brands,” says Valentina Culatti, the managing director of Unit9, a hybrid production company that specializes in branded storytelling. “If you establish a long-term relationship, it’s cheaper to keep a team that knows your brand and you have a vote of confidence in.”

Culatti gives the example of a Unit9 client, Italian luxury brand Loro Piana, that wanted to keep its customers coming back to its website in between its spring and fall collections. Unit9′s answer was a series of interactive illustrations published to its website a few times a month on an ongoing basis since its launch in early 2012—a content program that the brand could cancel at any time. Today, the more than 60 illustrations created over the past two years are a snapshot of what can be built when a brand spends its time committing to a program instead of wasting time and money jumping from campaign to campaign.

“Generally, you have to warm up to concepts,” says Culatti. “If you’re working on a short-term, one-off basis, there’s less of a chance that it will be a success.”

Contributed by Haniya Rae; photo by Grey World


Why Content Marketers Need to Stop Chasing Pageviews

Since the dawn of the internet, advertisers and publishers based the value of a website on two imperfect metrics: Unique visitors and pageviews. The prevalence of the pageview has led to the rise of sites like Upworthy, Viral Nova, and Distractify. While these sites certainly receive a ton of pageviews (Viral Nova had 100 million pageviews in December alone after just six months of existence), they face serious challenges, like inconsistent audience demographics that could turn off companies looking to target specific groups of people.

That’s certainly not the only problem, either. The challenge with virality and pageviews stems from a lack of diversification in traffic sources. When a publisher focuses on generating traffic instead of developing an audience, it primarily gains unique views through social networks like Facebook. When Facebook tweaked their News Feed algorithm, these viral sites got crushed.

Moreover, these sites frequently don’t even craft their own content. They browse sites like Reddit and republish articles to their own audiences. Sometimes, they share the same content (here’s an instance when Distractify and Viral Nova shared the same photo). Instead of creating unique material, they spend most of their time crafting headlines that entice readers to click through in order to generate pageviews.

Despite their overall popularity, these click-bait sites finally prove that the pageview is no longer a valuable engagement measurement. Much like how the publications that profited during the age of yellow journalism, such as Pulitzer’s New York World or Hearst’s New York Journal, faded to make way for the higher-quality publications we know and love today, the legacy metric of the page view will pass on in order for journalism and branded content to evolve.

As the evolution continues, what are the new metrics that editors, journalists, and content marketers should pay attention to?


While storytelling is widely praised for its implicit value, it will always be a difficult quality to measure. Many marketers may overlook the concept because it lacks ROI, but storytelling has been used to great effect by plenty of businesses looking to connect with customers and generate new business.

Instead of judging the success of a marketing campaign on pageviews and circulation, understand the value of measuring engagement by using metrics like time spent per page or time spent with brand. For example, UNICEF launched “Tap,” a campaign that promises to provide clean water to a child for a day for each minute users doesn’t touch their phone. The campaign is mobile-only, another sign of how browsing habits are constantly changing.

At this point, the webpage is a relic. The infinite scroll, a popular design technique used by just about every site at this point, requires new measurements capable of capturing value.


Soon, chasing fast clicks won’t be a sustainable business model or a silver-bullet metric for publishers. The focus continues to shift toward building a platform and an audience. And more useful metrics for success will monitor how many readers you have and how likely those readers are to return to your site.

Source: Chartbeat

Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile believes in measuring the time readers spend on the page engaging — scrolling, clicking, writing, reading, and watching — and correlating that number with the average reader’s propensity to return. This method helps determine the progress of publishers’ platform development based on the likelihood of readers to return in 30 days. To this end, Haile has created a new solution that helps publishers track which readers are consistently responding to a particular site.


In addition to engagement and retention, keep your finger on the pulse of the most fundamental metric: conversion. As 99U managing editor Sean Blanda says, “Most branded content has a conversation in mind — an email sign-up, a purchase, etc. That’s what you measure. I’d rather have 1,000 dedicated readers and convert 10% of them, than have 100,000 and convert no one.”

While pageviews are crucial for advertising-supported publications (to help gauge circulation), they are a small piece of the puzzle for content marketing initiatives and publications supported more heavily through subscriptions. Engagement and retention are more important figures, but conversion is the most significant.

Conversion is lower down the content marketing funnel than engagement and retention, which makes it difficult to attain and very important to track. In journalism, a conversion could be a subscription to paywall content or a print magazine. In content marketing, conversions could be sales, lead generation, or permission marketing metrics.

Engagement and retention are helpful, but conversions pay the bills.


Instead of chasing the vanity metric of pageviews in the hopes of striking viral gold, publishers need to turn their attention to crucial concepts like engagement, retention, and conversion moving forward. In the long run, those who fail to evolve will not only be left behind, they’ll probably wind up out of business, as well.

by Herbert Lui (