The Wall Street Journal Launches Native Ad Studio

First product, Narratives, to launch March 11

The Wall Street Journal is jumping on the native ad bandwagon with the launch of a new content division, WSJ. Custom Studios. The division will offer the Journal’s first native ad product, Narratives, which will first appear March 11 with a three-month-long campaign for Brocade.

Earlier, the Journal told us that Robin Riddle, publisher of WSJ Custom Studios, would be moving into a different role; it turns out he's continuing as publisher of the studio, but his work will focus on clients who are interested in products and services other than Narratives.

The announcement of the studio’s launch was made by Trevor Fellows, global head of ad sales at the Journal. The studio is being led by Randa Stephan as executive director; and Sarah Dale, head of strategic content, sales.

“Creative content, including infographics and enhanced video, is a key element of our clients’ marketing strategies,” Fellows said in the announcement. “We are pleased to launch an innovative, intelligent and flexible suite of capabilities that will help market-leading brands develop even deeper relationships with their clients and our readers, the world’s most important decision makers.”

The Journal said that Narratives content will be created by the studios and “clearly and compellingly” delineated from the paper’s editorial content. One of the problems with native advertising is the lack of agreement on what it is (and whether it’s a new format at all or just advertorials in a new package). In a Q&A discussing the new format, Fellows and Raju Narisetti, svp and deputy head of strategy for Journal parent News Corp., defined Narratives as clearly labeled, using sophisticated storytelling techniques and as engaging and of the same quality as the journalism that surrounds it.

As a new publishing company spun off from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, News Corp faces new pressure to adapt its newspapers to reader’s increasingly digital habits and advertising’s shift to online formats, and the studio is a significant move in that direction.

But is the Journal too late to the game? Other publishers including Forbes, BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post have their own in-house studios and have been at native content for months, if not years. Even relative latecomer The New York Times has been publishing via its native ad platform since January.

Apparently, the Journal took a lot of time studying the issue to make sure it gets the format just right. In the Q&A, Fellows said the paper has "given a great deal of thought to what we want to be, and what we don't want to be." It also considered recommendations from the FTC workshop and IAB’s native ad playbook and wrote guidelines of its own.