Written By Ted Murphy ::
Our society has become saturated with traditional
display advertising. Consumers have learned to tune
out, or even pay to omit ads altogether.
The most glaring example of this can be seen in television.
If you have seen an episode of NBC’s “The Office” lately,
you might have noticed product placement for Sandals
Resorts, Apple, Gateway, Chili’s, Cisco and many others.
In the episode “The Merger,” the character Kevin uses a
Staples-branded shredding machine to shred a Staples branded
CD-R and other non-paper items.
Product placement and sponsorship are appearing more
than ever in radio, television and motion pictures. Each day
the products and entertainment we love are becoming more
entangled in each other’s success. Naturally, the same advertising
shift is taking place online.
A Familiar Problem
Advertisers have long understood the benefit of sponsored
content — soap operas got their epithet because they were
sponsored by soap manufacturers such as Procter and
Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers. But content
creators and networks moved away from this form of advertising
because it limited inventory.
A show sponsorship can only be sold once, but distinctly
separating content with commercials allows the ad inventory
to be sold hundreds of times to different advertisers.
Essentially, the networks got rid of custom sponsorship then
created standard ad units and sold them all to the highest
bidder. Initially, it worked. But the number of television and
radio stations multiplied, niche content networks were created,
and soon advertisers had thousands of options to promote
themselves. Every network was selling the exact same
thing, creating a commodity out of television and radio ad
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Now, in the online world, advertisers have millions of
websites, blogs, podcasts and more in which to buy advertising
space. While text links, banners and buttons may have
generated a steady stream of revenue in the past, too many
publishers supporting their network solely with advertising
are struggling to stay afloat. CPMs and CTRs are dropping,
while at the same time competition for online advertising
dollars is growing. Unfortunately, many websites answer this
challenge in the same way the networks once did — by
adding more advertising.
What you end up with is websites overloaded with ads.
Not only does this take away from the user experience but it
can actually damage the brand. The ads compete with site
content — and each other — driving down CTRs, page
views and, ultimately, revenue. Adding more low-quality
advertising to your site is not the answer.
Is Your Site Sponsor-Worthy?
The biggest difference between sponsorship and advertising is that
sponsorships are almost always custom in some way. Instead of
slapping a banner ad on your site, you are creating a unique promotion
that leverages your brand and your audience. Think of your
sponsor as a business partner; the more value you can provide, the
more they will be able to compensate you now and in the future.
Sponsors come in many shapes and sizes, but they all have one
thing in common — they are selective. Buying media on an ad
network is one thing, but partnering with a publisher on a sponsorship
deal is entirely different. Potential sponsors will want to
know that their brand is well-represented, and in tight correlation
with the audience. Advertising budgets are being watched closer
than ever before, so sponsors will look closely at your website and
your audience to make sure they are getting the best return on
their investment. As such, you should always have up-to-date,
accurate analytics data available before approaching any potential
If you are running a low-quality site that is nothing more than
search fodder, don’t waste your time trying to get sponsorships.
However, if you have an attractive site with a solid community,
you have a variety of options from which to choose.
Do you enjoy reviewing products and services? Is this something
your audience will find interesting? If so, sponsored content
might be a perfect fit. Generally speaking, advertisers will pay you
to review or promote their product(s) on your site — anywhere
between $5-$5,000 and more for a single article or blog post, generally
depending on traffic and demographics. So it makes sense
that blogs are a natural fit for sponsored content, as are those sites
not considered to be official news sources.
As with any blog or magazine-style site, your audience is your
biggest asset, especially when you are being paid to reach out to
them. Therefore, you need to take steps to keep them happy. That
includes full disclosure when writing sponsored content. Avoid a
conflict of interest by notifying your readers that you are being
paid to write a particular piece of content, even if you would have
written about it anyway, or already wrote about it in the past.
Readers are more willing to not only tolerate, but actually read
sponsored content when treated with respect. Of course, any piece
of sponsored content should
be highly relevant to your
audience and provide some
sort of value.
If you have successfully built
a notable brand for your
website, you may be able to
land a site-wide sponsorship
deal. In this arrangement, a
sponsor pays for exclusive
rights to advertising on your
website — eliminating any competition while branding their
product with your audience on an every-visit basis.
Competitive Analysis for Sponsorships:
Whether you are seeking a sponsorship for your site
or an advertiser looking for a site to sponsor, a quick
analysis of competitors and the site in question can
help locate a target.
Try Compete.com — you can sign up for a free pro account
which lets you enter up to five sites and get a quick look at
traffic numbers. Quantcast.com offers a deeper look into
Search Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for a website,
company or their brand. Take a look at how many contacts
or friends they have, and how often they update profile
information or posts.
- Browser extension Shareaholic can give you a quick analysis
of how many times any page or website has been bookmarked
on Delicious, or voted on Digg, among other sites.
If you are considering site sponsorship it is imperative to align
yourself with the right advertiser –— the brand you choose as
your sponsor is a reflection of your own website’s brand. In addition,
you want to choose a brand that will perform well, given
your audience. And you’re not the only one looking for performance.
The better your sponsorship performs, the more likely the
advertiser is to re-up in future months. It also increases the
chances for other advertisers to take notice and make competing
Instead of site-wide sponsorship, you also have the option of
getting a sponsor for a particular portion of your site or a specific
promotion, such as contests, awards and events. As a publisher, a
targeted offer or section of content can be very enticing to the
right sponsor. This type of sponsorship can be seen regularly
during sporting events in the form of sponsored half-time reports,
time-outs, post-game shows, etc.
While sponsored sections can be found on websites, contests
are the most prevalent form of elemental sponsorship. Typically, a
publisher is provided with a free product or service as a give-away
from the sponsor in a co-branded promotion. The offer may or
may not include addition cash compensation for the publisher,
depending on the size of the site and the sponsorship terms.
Contests of this type provide additional awareness for the advertiser,
traffic for the publisher and a prize for readers, creating a
mutually beneficially relationship. Seek out sponsored contest
aggressively. Users love getting something free and will come back
for more. It’s also a great opportunity for publishers to collect
demographic data from users.
It’s a Balancing Act
The best sites find the right balance between content and advertising.
But beyond the simple ratio, you need to consider the type
of advertising and the impact on the site visitor. Sponsorship can
allow you to get rid of some or all of the under performing display
ad units and replace them with a more engaging experience that
keeps advertisers coming back for more. As an added bonus, your
site visitors will get fewer, but more relevant ads, and not be forced
to negotiate your site like an advertising mine field. In the end,
you will have happier users and a sustainable advertising model.
About the Author: Ted Murphy is Founder and CEO of IZEA, which operates PayPerPost
and SocialSpark, and Executive Producer of RockStartup, an online
docu/reality television show about running a startup business. He is
also a frequent speaker at industry trade shows.