An ad tech firm says it's found a cheaper way to produce branded content - and it poses a threat to the media companies that have bet big on in-house studios
- The ad tech firm TripleLift has a new product designed to make it easier for advertisers to run branded content at scale.
- TripleLift's ContentDial promises ad buyers access to unique data sets that should help them figure out what kind of ad-funded content will perform best on what websites.
- The firm employs freelancers to create articles and videos for brands - which should reduce the costs of these campaigns.
- It won't be easy to compete with the dozens of branded content studios run by major publishers.
Brands are pouring money into automated, programmatic advertising, using all sorts of data and analytics to zap ads to the right person.
They're also pumping budgets into branded content - articles and videos created on behalf of advertisers to subtly communicate their messages. That high touch, highly customized form of advertising is basically the polar opposite of programmatic.
Yet the ad tech company TripleLift has an ambitious plan to marry these two very different practices.
The firm has recently been testing a new product, ContentDial, which purports to help marketers create articles and videos on their behalf quickly and more efficiently than they do when going directly to a big publisher like The New York Times or BuzzFeed.
ContentDial also boasts of a proprietary analytics platform designed to help these brands figure out what content is likely to perform the best on which publishers' website and social media accounts before these advertisers commit to a pricey campaign.
The big idea is to make paying for digital ad content easier, faster, and smarter. Think branded content light.
The question is whether that's at all possible to do at scale with an ad format that is typically more art than science, and inherently requires lots of heavy lifting.
TripleLift wants to go after different ad budgets by delivering cheaper and better branded content
TripleLift has built a solid business helping advertisers buy 'native' ads that borrow the look and feel of all sorts of website and apps.
But to date, it basically had no means of going after custom branded content budgets.
"When speaking with brands and agencies, their digital investments are either going programmatic, or branded content, which we previously hadn't applied our technology towards," said said Ari Lewine, TripleLift's cofounder and chief strategy officer.
The kind of bespoke content that Lewine's referring to doesn't typically rely on tech and data, but more on creativity and brainstorming.
"We thought, 'what if the entire process was dictated by data?'" he said.
So TripleLift built its own proprietary tools to log branded content campaigns, and measure which are most effective at getting people to engage - everything from reading articles to sharing and comment on videos. Then, using artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, ContentDial claims it can help an advertiser figure out which articles and videos will perform best, and where they should be distributed.
And rather than tapping an expensive content studio, the company also employs a network of freelancers to create the ad-funded articles and videos.
"What we've seen when applying this tech and data is that we could bring down costs considerably while creating more effective content," said Lewine. "Basically, we can start to understand how content will perform before its even published."
So far, TripleLift has worked with publishers such as USA Today, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone and Bleacher Report to distribute branded content. One of the first advertisers is Visit Las Vegas, which used content to reach out to sports fans during the Las Vegas Golden Knights recent highly unexpected run to the Stanley Cup finals (this was the first year of the team's existence)
Trisha Stecker, associate media director at the ad agency R&R Partners, which oversaw the Vegas effort, liked the idea of having more assurance that campaigns will actually click with consumers.
"You would have had to spend bad money to test these campaigns," she said. "And you'd historically spend a few hundred grand with large publishers. These guys are able to find content that will resonate."
During the Golden Knights playoff run, ContentDial was able to crank out custom content in just 19 days. The articles were viewed 2 million times collectively, Stecker said, and the average time spent with each post was two minutes and three seconds. 70% of total campaign views were longer than 10 seconds.
"We felt like we were going out of the gate with stuff that would work," she said.
Of course, it won't be easy to disrupt the branded content marketplace, where dozens of publications ranging from Conde Nast to The Wall Street Journal produce articles for paying advertisers with the promise of journalistic quality and content geared for a specific audience.
Their output can range from fun lists like Everyone Has An Iconic Back-To-School Look That Matches Their Personality - What's Yours? to a diligent reported feature on the cocaine trafficking industry created by the Wall Street Journal's content studio for the Netflix show "Narcos."
"All agencies now work to use data to inform creative," said Adam Puchalsky, SVP, Managing Director at UM Studios, which helps create content for brands. "So I'm not sure if there is anything new there."
"The freelancer model is interesting, but as a brand marketer, you lose a close connection with the team that loves your brand as much as you do and will work tirelessly to grow with your brand," said Puchalsky. "You also lose the authenticity that a publication can deliver to their audience."
Jason Kleinman, TripleLift' general manager of branded content, had previously logged stints at media companies Hearst and The Guardian, and acknowledged the value of those connections.
But in his experience, they were often few and far between. "You can spend months refining concepts, and you'll have the 350 thread emails, it can definitely be maddening. Nobody knows if its going to work or not."
"Everybody remembers that one the Times did for 'Orange is the New Black,'" he said, referring to a memorable feature the Times branded studio produced in 2014 for the Netflix show.
"There are probably a hundred or so of these out there. But other times your content might sink like a stone."
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