It may have taken nontraditional publishers like Federated Media to pave the way for “conversational media,” in which advertisers mix more directly with the blogging community. But now premium content brands want to get in on the act.
A prominent example is Wired, which is running ad-sponsored blogs that let advertisers commingle their messages with editorial content. One that’s now on Wired.com is Cloudline, sponsored by IBM. It’s edited by Jon Stokes, a Wired freelancer who’s the blog’s main contributor. But IBM has a big role in it too, with branding on the site and executives contributing posts.
Wired publisher Howard Mittman says the topics started as Wired editorial ideas that needed ad support and were not generated by the advertisers themselves, as would be the case with much conversational media. (Separately, the magazine is also publishing some advertorial blogs where the content is driven by the advertisers, currently GE and BMW.)
“We’re not creating push-style content; what we’re really doing is trying to create conversations that engage the community,” Mittman said. “These are a new way for us to connect brands with consumers.”
Kristin Haarlow, associate media director at digital media agency Spark Communications, says interest in conversational media has grown as advertisers have recognized the importance of peers’ opinions in influencing what people buy. The format has also evolved to become more dynamic.
“This whole space started as running ads within blogs, then targeting those ads to specific content, and now building content for brands,” Haarlow said. “It’s getting more customized.”
What Wired’s doing with its customized blogs is notable because high-quality content brands have been slow to venture into conversational media, according to Haarlow. And some advertisers aren’t fully comfortable with the idea either. “You lost a bit of control,” she explained. “If you let the blogs do exactly what they’re supposed to do, you open the door to positive and negative feedback. That’s a risk some brands aren’t willing to take yet.”
Condé Nast has been cautious about experimenting with its luxury brands like Vogue and Vanity Fair, but Wired has a history of sticking its neck out, which makes it a good guinea pig for experiments like this that could eventually spread to the rest of Condé. (It was one of the company's first titles to launch a digital edition, for instance.)
“The company views Wired as a laboratory for invention,” Mittman said. “It helps provide a template for the rest of the industry.”