Credit: By gaglias on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Native advertising has been one of the industry buzzwords of 2013, with BuzzFeed, which brings in revenue through sponsored content, articles commissioned by brands, reaching profitability.

In a presentation at the International Newsroom Summit in Berlin, Ebele Wybenga, a journalist and author of 'The Editorial Age', said that BuzzFeed is reportedly charging $10 per 1,000 impressions on a sponsored story, when a standard rate for a banner ad impression is between $1 and $2 per 1,000.

Wybenga also offered some advice for news organisations in engaging with this form of advertising.

'Branded journalism'

Brands and news organisations are now working with one another, Wybenga said. Brands are looking for credibility while news outlets are seeking revenue.

And this development, called "branded journalism", comes at a time when both the news industry and advertising industries are in crisis.

There are "two trends forcing journalism and advertising to blend", Wybenga said. The first is that "people are growing wary of advertising", the second is "the commercialisation of the independent media".

Traditional ad formats are increasingly problematic, he said. Television adverts can now be easily skipped with the development in video-on-demand technologies. Search advertising has grown in recent years, but there is "not enough space for stories" within a Google Adwords search ad. And banner advertising has not been successful, he said, suggesting that most clicks on banner ads are accidental.

Ads are not social

Brands are aware that people do not like to share something that "feels like an ad", Wybenga said.

"But the smartest brands have figured out that they can create content that feels more like news than an ad, and encourage influencers to share such posts on social media," he added.

“But you need to have something really interesting for them to talk about.”

Branded journalism versus independent journalism

It is "important to distinguish between branded journalism and independent journalism," Wybenga said. Brands cannot be the "custodians of democracy".

He gave a number of examples of brand journalism:
  • Colors
Colors is a magazine is produced by clothing retailer Benetton – but "it is not about brightly coloured jumpers". The magazine costs €10 and is designed to make the brand interesting.

"It is is different from most glossy magazines," Wybenga said. "It's not generic lifestyle stuff but very original reporting." He said that "it dares to do everything ordinary glossies do not" in regard to Acne Paper, which contains essays, stories about history and high-brow art photography.
  • Think Quarterly
Google publishes a magazine called “Think Quarterly”, Wybenga said. The magazine "doesn’t push Google products but pushes their view of the world”.

If you get this magazine delivered to you, "it means Google thinks you are very important", he said.
  • Mr Porter
Mr Porter is a web magazine – which looks much like any quality publication. It has included an interview with director and artist Steve McQueen, written by a former film critic of a national newspaper.
  • Weight Watchers
Weight Watchers magazine includes stories about people losing weight, told to inspire dieters following their weight-loss programme. It is published by the company that offers the diet clubs.
  • Little White Lies app
And branded journalism has moved onto the smartphone. Little White Lies is an app with free independent film reviews offered by Stella Artois. The beer company offers "something useful", Wybenga said.

Advice for news organisations

Wybenga has five recommendations for publishers considering sponsored content:

1. Aim for a niche audience
2. Create an original voice
3. Foster independent thinking
4. Talk perspective, not product
5. Hire a talented editor

Asking how readers can trust the media of tomorrow, he advised publishers to "mirror your media environment, respect the truth, don’t hide your brand, use a byline, and don’t fake independence".

He said it is dangerous for publishers to ask staff journalists to write sponsored stories and instead is better to use freelancers or an agency.

But he said the journalist employed to write sponsored content should use a byline, which enables transparency. "It’s a sign that it is accordance with your conscience," he said. "If there is no byline, the public will know the reliability is low," he suggested.

Clarification: This article originally said that BuzzFeed is charging $10 per impression on a sponsored story, when a standard rate for a banner ad impression is between $1 and $2. A comment helpfully pointed out that this is per 1,000 impressions. We checked with Wybenga and he clarified and we have corrected the story.

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