Brands want advertising that looks and feels like actual editorial content, and publishers are uniquely positioned to help. But how do they do that without selling out?
Increasingly, by creating stand-alone units. Onion has its Onion Labs, a serious branded content team that creates Onion-like parodies for brands. And The Huffington Post recently launched its HuffPost Partner Studio, an in-house creative agency for brands to produce sponsored content tailored to the HuffPost audience and environment.
And now, Condé Nast's Wired is officially unveiling a new unit called Amplifi; its mandate is to create content for brands that's highly tailored to the Wired reader while labeled as promotional. So far, it’s churned out a crowd-sourced tablet magazine for Cisco and a custom blog for Marriott on travel for geeks. A mosaic-like print ad for Fiat that's running in the September issue also was the product of Amplifi.
Wired has done native, or custom, content for a while; already, an estimated 30 percent of its ad revenue has native as a component. With Amplifi, though, Wired is now formalizing the process by unifying its existing content creation functions under one unit. At the heart of the operation is a vetted roster of writers, filmmakers and others. Some have even worked for Wired editorial in the past, but they’re not current contributors, so as to avoid any journalistic conflicts of interest.
Amplifi can work as a full-service shop, Wired vp, publisher Howard Mittman said.
“Clients … want to be able to tell a story that resonates deeply inside our community,” he said. “We tried to find writers we thought had institutional knowledge of what Wired was about but could help tell brand stories.”
In screening potential contributors, Wired looked for people with a strong social media footprint so that if the client wishes, the contributor could share the content across their social network for added exposure, Mittman added.
“They are people of high level,” he said.
The traditional creative agency's role has been chipped away over the years as publishers take on more parts of the creative process. Despite all the capabilities Amplifi is offering, Mittman took care to say that he’s not trying to usurp the creative agency.
“This is to complement, not co-opt it,” he said, noting that in the Cisco tablet magazine example, Goodby Silverstein & Partners was still engaged in the process. “I don’t want to be anyone’s creative agency of record.”