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Guilt by Association

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"I need to make sure my company and their brand are represented appropriately for the right audience," said one marketer in our conversations. And it's exactly this sort of powerful alignment between audience and brand that only branded-content sites can truly provide. In doing so, they not only protect the brand, but can greatly enhance it thanks to the powerful connection consumers have with these sites. This connection extends to the site's advertisers, creating a "halo" effect. Consumers recognize these content sites are both a trusted source for entertainment and information, and a trusted source to learn more about relevant, quality brands. Consumers have long proven they are willing to be exposed to high-quality online advertising in exchange for access to high-quality online content.

As important as they are, trusted environments and brand halos can be hard to put a specific value on. But the advertising impact of branded-content sites can be measured.

In a recent study, the OPA analyzed independent Dynamic Logic MarketNorms data to better understand the connection between environment and advertising. Ad effectiveness scores on branded-content sites were numerically higher than on the Web in general, on portals or on ad networks -- and not just for a few measurements. Branded-content sites outscored industry norms for the Internet 41 out of 43 times across the full range of advertising metrics.

Simply delivering better results is important, but being able to break through at critical moments when consumers are making brand and purchase decisions is advertising's Holy Grail. According to our study, branded-content sites provide a 29 percent improvement over average online-advertising performance, and a game-changing 200 percent improvement over ad networks. Looking further down the purchase decision funnel at the critical measure of purchase intent, branded-content sites provide a 20 percent improvement over the Internet overall -- and a 100 percent improvement over ad networks.

In the marketing mix, ad networks clearly have their place, as do portals. But quality content is the essence of the clean, well-lighted place where brands can be built, strengthened and protected. In the increasingly vast and complex online media universe, keeping company with trusted content and brands -- and avoiding the Thong of the Day -- should be given a lot more credit than it's currently receiving.

Pam Horan is president of the Online Publishers Association. She can be reached at phoran@online-publishers.org.