Companies like InPowered and Disqus have rolled out ad platforms for brands to promote articles and other more media-ish content with paid placements on publishers’ sites, and now Sharethrough is upping its stake in the game.
Last September, the San Francisco-based ad startup launched Sponsored Videos to seed brands’ videos alongside sites’ regular content. On Monday Sharethrough is adding Sponsored Stories units (not the same as Facebook’s, but we’ll get to that) to do the same for non-video content. As with InPowered and Disqus, Sharethrough’s advertisers such as launch partners Land Rover, Pop Secret and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society can designate their own content like a whitepaper or branded blog post to run as an ad. For example, Pop Secret has taken one of its Tumblr posts and run it as an ad on Serial Optimist.
The ads appear as article links and can include a headline, short blurb describing the linked content, image thumbnail and social sharing buttons as well as a line delineating it as a sponsored unit and specifying the advertiser. Sharethrough founder and CEO Dan Greenberg said targeting and distribution is the same as with Sharethrough Sponsored Videos. The ads can be aimed according to audience demographics or site context and run within a publisher’s article feed alongside non-branded stories, in a similar gallery-style setup or as a standalone module on a single article page. Sharethrough’s network includes hundreds of individual publishers and millions of WordPress blogs, though Sponsored Stories is only initially rolling out in beta with roughly 15 publishers, Greenberg said.
At its core, Sharethrough is allowing brands to take any URL, pay to promote the linked content on a publisher’s site and have it look like the regular content listed on the site. However there are limitations. There isn’t yet a self-serve platform, so brands have to work directly with Sharethrough’s sales team to run the ads. “We could build a self-serve platform today, but we want to keep the content quality high. [A self-serve platform] could open the long tail of the worst content,” Greenberg said. And for now Sharethrough is only letting advertisers promote content the brand was involved in creating. So Land Rover could run an ad touting its sponsored video series with Men’s Journal but not a Motor Trend article reviewing its latest model. Leniency could come as advertisers become more familiar with the ads and Sharethrough feels confident they won’t promote lame content like product pages that revert the units to traditional banners.
For brands like American Express that have a load of branded content they could promote, Sharethrough has an internal content dashboard that’s able to analyze a brand’s most popular content in order to suggest what articles to turn into ads. The tool can also see what unbranded articles are gaining traction on a specific publisher’s site and recommend that a related brand run an ad to capitalize on the attention. Sharethrough’s content dashboard sounds similar to InPowered’s, though brands can directly access InPowered’s version whereas they have to go through Sharethrough’s sales team. Greenberg said he’s considering opening up the tool to the public, including publishers and regular users.
As for the ad product’s name which borrows from Facebook’s more famous units, that’s by design. “I think of Sponsored Stories not as Facebook’s ad product but as a category of ad products,” Greenberg said. The idea is to transition Sponsored Stories to the lower-case sponsored stories, from a proper noun proprietary to Facebook into a common noun adopted by as many publishers that are willing. “Facebook has their take on Sponsored Stories, Sharethrough has our take on Sponsored Stories, and maybe one day Yahoo has their take on Sponsored Stories.”