About Builds Brand Content Areas

NEW YORK New York Times Co.-owned About is rolling out a series of customized advertiser content sections to complement standard ad buys on the site. The sponsored sections come as advertisers look to Web publishers for ad programs that move beyond standard ad placements and embed their brands more deeply in content.

About recently teamed with the MGM Grand, Luxor, Treasure Island and Mandalay Bay hotels in Las Vegas to produce a “48 Hours in Las Vegas” section (www.48hoursinvegas.about.com) that aggregates pre-existing About.com content on the city’s restaurants, casinos and nightlife. A contest, run by promotions agency ePrize, will award a trip there to visitors who submit a “Vegas confession” via photo, video and text. The “48 Hours in Las Vegas” section also carries offers from the sponsoring hotels.

Last year, it worked with AstraZeneca on a sponsored area devoted to heartburn, a condition AstraZeneca’s Nexium is used to treat. In addition to About content, the section links out to AstraZeneca tools and information, as well as product sample offers. About is readying another custom section with Pfizer and has others lined up for launch this year, according to Scott Meyer, CEO of About.

“We’ve always performed well for the advertisers,” he said. “Now we’ve gotten to the point of our relationship with advertisers that we’re a great custom solutions provider.”

Portal giants like Yahoo and MSN have long created custom sections for advertisers. For example, Yahoo created a Web site for Hewlett-Packard for the NCAA basketball tournament that uses the portal’s social media resources to create a hub for fans.

Smaller publishers are also getting into the act. The Washington Post-owned site Slate has created several custom content sections for advertisers like American Express. Even a niche site like CollegeHumor.com is banking on brand-content integration, enlisting its editorial team to work with advertisers like Kraft on custom programs.

Yet a large site like About, which Nielsen//NetRatings says attracted 31.8 million visitors in February, is in a better position to make it worthwhile for advertisers, Meyer argues. “These custom programs need scale to work,” he said.

A tricky balance to strike for an information site, Meyer concedes, is between providing advertisers with a deep connection to visitors while retaining editorial independence. The About brand sections carry a disclaimer at the top of the page that the content was not created with input from the advertiser. The areas are promoted within related About editorial sections without notation they are advertisements. “48 Hours in Las Vegas,” for example, is promoted on About’s Las Vegas Honeymoons section with a small graphic reading “48 Hours in Las Vegas: Where to stay, where to dine and what to do in Vegas.”

“We feel comfortable with that because we’re driving you to a resource center that’s all our content,” Meyer said.

Since the New York Times Co. acquired it for $410 million in February 2005, About has been a boon for the publishing company. It ranks as the 15th most visited site on the Web in February. Total revenue for the site grew 50 percent to $80.2 million in 2006, the company reported. The NYTC expects digital revenue to grow 30 percent to top $350 million in 2007.