The Magic of Advertorial Content (Part I)

In the past (here and here), I’ve written about advertorial content: content which is both advertising and editorial simultaneously. In these cases, the content is the advertising, yet it still delivers value to the end-user. There is something magical about content which falls into this category because it’s uniquely integrated and pleases all the parties involved – the reader/consumer, the advertiser, and the publisher. Because the content itself is inherently monetizable – as it is advertising per se – and the value of it creates an (economic-speak) surplus for everyone.

The Real World. We can see examples of advertorial content in the offline world. Of course, the first thing comes to mind is infomercials. Millions of people watch these late-night programs not only to learn about the products showcased, but also for some sort of entertainment value. But offline advertorial content extends further. People search through the Sunday newspaper coupon section for just the right deal, and this “hunt” also provides an entertainment value beyond the coupon itself. Not a coupon clipper? How many times have you “read” the J.Crew or Pottery Barn catalog that was delivered to your doorstep? Or passed the time with the SkyMall catalog while bored on a plane? All examples of advertising that literally becomes valuable content to the consumer.

Traditional Online. Advertorial content emerged digitally during the previous era on the web. At Sombasa Media, a company that I co-founded, we had a series of e-mail newsletters which published advertorial content from advertisers. For example, our flagship product, the BargainDog, delivered an opt-in personalized e-mail newsletter for millions of consumers. We continuously received feedback from our users telling us how they looked forward to hearing about the best deals and specials at online merchants.

I’d also argue that the entirety of eBay is advertorial content. The listings themselves are advertisements that consumers find as valuable. Likewise for Monster job posts. Companies pay to have their jobs included in the database, but the job-seekers themselves derive great value out of inventory. The list of online advertorial content goes on and includes services like shopping comparison engines and e-saver plane fare e-mails.

Emerging Advertorial Content. There is additional opportunity in this realm of advertorial content as web innovation continues to transform how we interact with each other over it. Some examples of companies that are experimenting with new ways of advertising-based content are music recommendation engines and job vertical search sites. In effect, local event listing sites could turn advertorial as venues look to promote their events on the web.

I think that the rise of user-generated content provides for new and creative cases of advertorial. Aren’t professional blogs nothing more than an advertisement for the creator of them? Yet readers do derive (sometime significant) value from them. What about when consumers post about their favorite music or products on their blogs or on sites like MySpace? I, along with others, think that there should be a “sell-side advertising” mechanism to allow for those reviews and citations to be monetized by the individual publishers that also further benefits the product manufacturer/advertiser as well. Accordingly, as the web evolves, I believe that we will see more novel and effective instances and models enabling advertorial content emerge.

(Advertorial content is indeed effective, but only if executed correctly. If it isn’t, it can easily turn off readers/users and discredit the publisher of it. In my next post on the subject, I’ll enumerate my thoughts on how effective advertorial content is created.)

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.