The 2015 State of Sponsored Content

Sponsored content represents a burgeoning opportunity for brands to connect with consumers in the comfort of their most trusted environments--the publications they go to for information and entertainment. Yet, as a relatively new form of advertising, the realm of sponsored content is largely unexplored and unknown. This will be the year that brands come to know sponsored content intimately--and embrace it wholeheartedly. Here's a quick snapshot of sponsored content in 2015.


Sponsored contentconveys a variety of meanings depending on who is using the language, but most marketers agree that it refers to a form of native advertising. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) identifies six types of native advertising, and defines the umbrella term as "paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong." Sponsored content, as it is widely accepted in the digital publishing world, refers to editorial content that is paid for by a brand; in other words, sponsored articles.


Leveraging a publication's audience for brand exposure is nothing new (remember advertorials?), but the concept of sponsored articles has only recently risen to relevance, trailing the mass adoption of content marketing and the advent of thought leadership. Unlike advertorials, sponsored articles are not product or sales oriented. Instead, their purpose is to educate or entertain an audience. By providing genuinely interesting content for consumers via the publications they trust most, brands open themselves up to a variety of potential benefits ranging from exposure to conversions.


According to the newly released Media Buyer's Guide to Sponsored Content from DigitalRelevance, nearly three quarters of publishers and media buyers alike have embraced sponsored articles. And there's no secret to its recent success: 25% more consumers looked at sponsored articles than display ad units and native ads have been found to produce 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% higher lift for brand affinity than banner ads. Moreover, native advertising spend is expected to more than quadruple by 2018. For publishers, this means a new, reliable, and growing revenue channel. For brands, this means a creative new way to influence prospects early in the buyer's journey.


For all its recent growth and success, however, sponsored content is still a touchy subject for some. As a form of media that blurs the lines between editorial content and advertising, sponsored articles have been accused of deceiving consumers, creating mistrust of brands, and damaging the editorial integrity of publications. Lack of industry-wide regulation from the FTC has also contributed to disparities in disclosure requirements of sponsored content, specifically regarding language and graphic separation. As a new form of advertising with varying options in execution from publisher to publisher, pricing standards have not been set, leaving brands in the dark about the costs of sponsored content. However, a pricing study within the afore-mentioned guide created baselines that scientifically established fair market value prices for sponsored content.

Opportunity for all

According to Solve Media, you're more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad. In an age when consumers demand utility rather than promises from advertising, brands must evolve to create that utility, or else risk irrelevance. According to DigitalRelevance, "by publishing relevant, thoughtful, useful, and compelling content, brands can evolve into more than just companies that make and sell things; they can become producers of ideas and distributors of knowledge." As brands and publishers come together to expand native advertising initiatives in 2015, sponsored content will become a welcomed opportunity for all who have a stake in the advertising game--even consumers.

Regardless of controversy and lack of regulation, sponsored content is coming. Will you be prepared to take advantage of it?