Forbes, Martini Media Strike Unconventional Ad Deal

Business site's editorial content will appear in blue-chip ads

Advertising Week has come and gone, and while we're arguably no closer to cracking the code on digital advertising, Forbes and Martini Media are tacitly voting in favor of content-branded digital ads.

In a deal that's unconventional even for the likes of Forbes, the business news brand reached a deal with digital ad company Martini Media to integrate the magazine's staff-written editorial content into ads for blue-chip advertisers. And while there are plenty of native ad units that combine branded editorial content with the advertiser's own material, what's notable about these units is that they're running outside of the Forbes ecosystem. 

"The most success I've seen is with integrated sponsorships with an editorial and advertising blend," Martini Media chief revenue officer Tom O'Regan explained. "There's way more engagement when content aligns with brand message. We felt it was something that Martini needed more of."

The ads will let the marketer surround their own rich media with Forbes articles that are specific to the brand's message. For example, one launch client, Emirates Airlines, will include in its ad travel and thought leader-related articles from Forbes that are aimed at high-income executives. When the Forbes link is clicked, the ad unit will redirect to Forbes' site, where the sponsor's ad content will surround the article. 

Advertisers will be able to choose from any Forbes staff-written content, and their bylines and photos may appear in the ad as well. The ads will then run as IAB Rising Star portrait units across Forbes' and Martini's publishing networks, which includes such sites as Salon, LexisNexis and Kayak.

It's not uncommon for a publisher to seek wider distribution of its content; what's unusual about this deal is that the content is being distributed outside the publisher's own site. It's a bold move, even for a publisher like Forbes, which radically broke with church-state convention in 2010 when it let advertisers publish alongside staffers in an overhaul of its print and Web products. While the marketers' posts carry a BrandVoice logo, they, by design, look just like the editorial-produced content.

In this newest program, O'Regan said the Forbes content would be editorial-driven and not created for the advertiser. Still, some writers may have mixed feelings about their articles appearing in an ad, even if the result is more pageviews. Forbes clarified in an emailed statement noting that, "Forbes is simply including the content in the ads with links back to the original article.  Since all of Forbes' content is transparently labeled, showing whether the writer is a staffer or contributor that will be made very clear to the user. Martini—in partnership with its clients—will be selecting the articles."

O'Regan noted that the 300 x 1050 rich portrait units will only use Forbes staff content, not material from Forbes' thousands of freelance contributors and BrandVoice partners. In addition to Emirates, Martini has ads scheduled to launch this week with the luxury auto company Bentley Motors.

Martini and Forbes are hoping that packaging financial and travel content from the well-known business magazine will help cure banner blindness. O'Regan said ads containing custom content get interaction rates and four times higher engagement rates than ads containing rich media or banners. Time will tell what the return on the ad is when the content comes from an established editorial voice.