Emotional and Effective, Upworthy’s Native Ads Have Brought in More Than $10 Million for the Site

Starbucks joins growing list of brand partners

When Starbucks wanted to share the uplifting story of how its local events helped a deaf woman discover a large, supportive community, the coffee chain turned to a somewhat obvious choice: Upworthy.

Specifically, it went to the viral publisher of positivity's native ad division, Upworthy Collaborations, which helped package and distribute the video to an audience that always loves a tear-jerking tale. 

The branded content program, which launched in April 2014 with Unilever's Project Sunlight, helps companies either by curating heartwarming and inspiring content created by the brand, working with the brand to create branded pieces or finding materials that align with the brand's mission and posting them on behalf of the brand. The content is then promoted on Upworthy's site and on social, and boosting online chatter through #UpChats on Twitter.

In the nine months the native ad program was available during 2014, Upworthy said it generated more than $10 million in revenue for the publisher.

The benefits aren't just for the the publisher, however. Upworthy said its native ads did 38 times better than the industry standard for social content, based on data complied by NewsWhip from the top 25 social publishers. (Previously, the site told Adweek that its branded content also outperforms other posts within its own site, getting 3.5 times more views and 2.9 times more attention minutes than its site average. Clients have seen a 50 percent to 100 percent brand awareness lift and a 15 percent to 25 percent increase in positive brand association, the site said. )

Many Upworthy Collaborations pieces topped 500,000 views and earned over 100,000 Facebook likes, shares and comments, despite the fact that Upworthy is one of the viral sites whose referral traffic was hit hard by Facebook's NewsFeed algorithm tweaks

"Every campaign of ours is customized to address a very specific marketing or strategic objective of our client—and every one of our campaigns has successfully done that," Upworthy's director of revenue Josh Luger said via email. "We've literally over-delivered against every media plan guarantee as a result of our audience's overwhelming response to our native content. Most importantly, though, we've seen significant perception change in every campaign we've measured."

Unilever svp of marketing Marc Mathieu said in a statement that, in less than eight months, Upworthy Collaborations got 175 million social impressions, 6 million social interactions and more than 15 million viewers. Most importantly, the brand reported a 17 percent increase in the perception the brand was committed to improving the future of the planet among those who saw its Upworthy content.

Other marketers partnering with the program have included Toms, Whirlpool, Gap, Holiday Inn, Pantene, Dove, A&E, Universal Pictures, Virgin Mobile, American Family Insurance and CoverGirl, as well as some nonprofit organizations like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The United Nations and The U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Toms reported a 69 percent higher monthly social media growth during the time its campaigns ran with Upworthy.

"Upworthy Collaborations proves that native campaigns can work best when centered around meaningful and authentic messages that resonate on a deep, emotional level with consumers," Luger said. "We've continued to see growing and overwhelming demand for our native programs in 2015, and we expect that trend to continue. We couldn't be more excited for the year ahead."