Last quarter I ran a branded content campaign with the New York Times (Wikipedia: Branded Content) that included a paid post and display banners across the entirety of the nytimes.com website. To be blunt, I didn’t think it was worth it. But why not and, more importantly, why did my client disagree?
The design? Not so great.
The New York Times Paid Post is a lackluster user experience at best. When compared to Mashable’s Immersive BrandSpeak it’s almost embarrassing. Seriously, compare this Paid Post from the New York Times to this BrandSpeak from Mashable (I wasn’t involved in either of these campaigns). We know the Times can do better, because their editorial team creates gorgeous content for the magazine. They started strong with their first campaign for Netflix (which was ranked in the Times top 1,000 articles last year), but it’s pretty much been downhill from there.
This seems to be a common theme across nearly all branded content providers. Mashable doesn’t appear to offer commenting on their BrandSpeak posts but Ars Technica and Alister & Paine both offer commenting. Why does it matter? Commenting is a valuable space for communities to engage around a story. We want to see people thoughtfully engaging in the story, but the concerns are valid for the Times and others who turn off commenting for branded content. What if half of the comments are people complaining about how the Times sold out, or the end of journalistic integrity? That’s not good for anyone. Some clients don’t even want comments sections turned on (I’m looking at you, Big Pharma) but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an option.
It’s kinda pricey.
In an AdAge article from last year, DELL admitted to paying “six-figures” for their activation with the New York Times. For obvious reasons, I’m not at liberty to say exactly how much my client paid for their campaign but I can confirm the ambiguously vague “six-figure” price tag quoted by AdAge is accurate.
Compare that to Mashable, Ars Technica, Alister & Paine’s Direct Publishing, The Atlantic, or nearly any other branded content solution out there and it’s exponentially more expensive. That, perhaps, is part of it’s charm. Like a Ferrari. But this is more like if Ferrari made a four-cylinder car that was kind of ugly and still charged you six-figures for it. It just doesn’t make sense, but some sucker will still buy it because it has a Ferrari emblem on the grille.
Why we keep going back.
Are advertisers gluttons for punishment? Maybe. Ok, yes, definitely. But even that doesn’t explain why we keep going back to a product that costs way more than the competition, looks pretty horrible, and has fairly poor performance. So, why do our clients keep asking us to buy it?
Because, dummy, it’s the New York Times.
Brands see it as a shortcut to get under the masthead of one of the most prestigious journals of all time, and they’re right. That’s why they’re going to continue to pay a premium for the foreseeable future, and it’s also why there’s no incentive for the Times to make their product look–or perform–better than the competition.