Advertising and entertainment have always gone hand in hand. The term "soap opera" describes a very specific genre of daytime TV to the modern viewer, but believe it or not the descriptor originates from advertising, not content. Soap and detergent brands sponsored the earliest radio plays, creating a union of content and advertising so strong that we still use the name almost a century later.
The media and entertainment industries have remained closely entwined with advertising ever since, but it's clear that we've arrived at a crossroads. The days of a single, unobtrusive presenting sponsor are long in the past. Modern consumers have built up a resistance for ads and are using tools to avoid them altogether. With TV, it's the use of DVR and fast forwarding. Online, it's ad blockers, with as many as 45 million consumers in the U.S. using them to avoid brand messages altogether.
These trends are indicative of a new consumer mindset, and have forced every form of media into "a three-legged race with the sponsors that support its production," as The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum recently put it. Consumers turn on the TV, open up a web browser, or fire up an app to access content that has value to them. Taking extra steps to avoid advertising altogether clearly signals a feeling of intrusion. Rather than force more ads onto a page to overcome the shortfall, it's time to change the overall advertising experience.
The only way to overcome the obstacles of today's cluttered online ad space is to give something back to the consumer by developing ads that deliver more than a marketing message. For advertising to be accepted - for it to matter to the consumer -- it needs to deliver value based on the consumer's interests.
This is why tactics like content marketing are growing in popularity, even though they are not particularly new. Magazines have used sponsored content for years. The difference is that in the past, anyone reading the magazine knew exactly what was sponsored because it was so poorly executed. It tried to look like editorial, but focused too much on a product pitch, screaming out that it was sponsored content.
Today's best content-based executions focus more on the content component than the idea of selling something. The truth is that consumers don't care whether the message they receive is sponsored or not - they care about how it relates to them and what they find meaningful. Successful sponsored content is all about priorities: feeding valuable information first, marketing message second.
Recently, my daughter came across a content-based ad for Royal Caribbean while we were trying to plan a family vacation. The ad provided a glimpse into all of the company's cruise destinations, which opened up our family up to new, previously unconsidered ideas about where to travel. Through careful ad construction and a targeting strategy that caught my daughter at the perfect moment, the cruise line succeeded -- my family spent the holidays on a Royal Caribbean ship that winter.
This is an example of the advertiser developing and sharing something useful, meaningful and engaging. My family took value from the message, rather than turning away or ignoring it. Great content coupled with good targeting tactics leads to positive end results. After all, soap operas earned their sponsors because women listened to them at home, creating the perfect opportunity for a cleaning brand to reach its target audience.
Of course, it's not always easy to define value when it comes to content marketing, so here are three tips for developing ads that matter.
1. Teach the consumer something new.
One of the greatest things about the Internet is that information is everywhere. This also means consumers may have trouble identifying a starting point in the research stage of the sales funnel, which creates an opportunity for the advertiser. Content-heavy ads can function as the rabbit holes that pull consumers into an educational journey, sparking their desire to conduct more research. Initiating this self-discovery is a huge plus for the advertiser.
2. Reach consumers at scale.
Great content means nothing if it goes unseen. The growing number of channels in which one can consume media only adds to the complexity of getting brand messages to the right consumer at the right place, at the right time. Choosing the right distribution partners with audience targeting technology is a surefire way to hit your target at scale and in contextually relevant environments.
3. Measure the metrics that matter.
Choosing the right metrics to measure KPIs is critical in getting an accurate evaluation of campaign success. You can't fake higher funnel brand awareness, engagement and affinity and so turning to metrics like dwell time, brand lift and consideration are pivotal to gauging success. These insights allow you to target messages better and track your engagement behavior to understand where you're spending your time and effort and if it's working or can be improved.
Above all else, advertisers need to remember that consumers go online to access the content they find interesting. While there are more formats and channels for ad delivery than ever before, the advertiser's goal should not be about finding which formats are better, but about creating a positive experience and environment for the consumer. Rather than dilute a message with multiple ads, advertisers need to remember that consumers are looking for something that is less intrusive and more valuable. They're looking for advertising that matters.
This article is a part of a series exploring communications and media trends in honor of the second annual Communications Week, a week-long series of events celebrating the communications industry, held from October 19-23, 2015. Follow @CommsWeekNY.
Post by Sloan Gaon, CEO at PulsePoint. You can reach him on Twitter @PulsePointBuzz.