Branded content on blogs is dead

Lorraine MurphyAs more brands look to storytelling and content channels like blogs to get their messages across Lorraine Murphy says they should look to work with bloggers for the best results.

“Sponsorship” suggests whacking a logo on some content (be that an event, a TV show or a blog post) and that’s the extent of the relationship between the owner of the content and the brand in question.

The days of brands badging a logo and call-to-action on a blog post are gone. The space has moved on and successful content now calls for a co-creation approach with bloggers.

The most successful campaigns we see at The Remarkables Group are those in which the blogger is involved in planning the strategy with the brand.

I had an experience in the early days of the business where I workshopped an idea with an agency, and called the blogger to share it with them. I was told in no uncertain terms that the idea wouldn’t fly (a four letter word beginning with “s” may have been said) – and that the blogger had a much better idea.

When we went with the blogger’s idea, we had a campaign that knocked our targets out of the ballpark. It was an early lesson for us to get bloggers involved as we plan campaigns. That way we know that the idea we take back to the client has got the buy-in of the blogger, and is infinitely more likely to succeed.

We know from our reader surveys that readers of the bloggers we represent do read sponsored content. Last year, we asked 3,500 readers just that – “do you read sponsored content?”. 52% of readers said that they read it as they trust the blogger to bring them information that they’ll be interested in – so the blogger is essentially acting as a filter for relevant content.

The second response to that question was a happy-dance moment for us though. 44% of readers said that they’re indifferent to whether content is sponsored or not – even though the content is clearly labelled as such.

We talk about the need for what’s “in it” for the reader. We don’t mean cash, holidays or a free car. They’re great, but a promotion alone won’t secure the reach and engagement that the brand wants.

If a piece of sponsored content is a straight-sell for a brand, the reader switches off. There needs to be a story, an experience. That might be some exclusive photos, a recipe or some “how-to” tips. The fact that readers see branded content as being of the same calibre as non-branded content indicates that it works when it’s approached correctly.

I urge agencies and brands to get bloggers involved in the piece early. Brief them on the campaign concept, share the key messages. Get them to sign an NDA if it’s top secret. Allow them to create a strategy that will grab their readers, and get them engaging with the brand.

And lean on them for audience insights. Countless times, I’ve been brainstorming a blogger strategy with a meeting room table full of agency or brand people – and not one of us falls into the target demographic of the campaign we’re planning. Bloggers know their readers, and they can help you know them too.

Just ask!

Oh and 4% of readers said that they don’t read branded content – which we can live with!

Lorraine Murphy is founder of The Remarkables Group.


  1. Jessica
    2 Dec 13
    4:30 pm

  2. The problem I can see with this is that you only surveyed current readers of these blogs – what about the people who have stopped reading because they dislike sponsored content? Also, how was the survey presented? Isn’t there a chance that the people who dislike branded content would be less likely to respond to a survey like this?

  3. disclosure
    2 Dec 13
    6:52 pm

  4. probably should disclose the author of the articles interest here …

  5. Shirley
    2 Dec 13
    8:34 pm

  6. Surely this piece should be marked “Promotion for my company” and not “Opinion”.

  7. Al
    3 Dec 13
    8:55 am

  8. So, you surveyed 3,500 readers of blogs you represent (i.e. blogs THAT WRITE sponsored content), and asked them “Do you read sponsored content?”
    52% answered a) yes, because I trust the blogger to bring me relevant information
    4% answered b) no, I don’t read it
    44% answered c) I’m indifferent to whether content is sponsored or not (which is not actually an answer to that question)
    I really hope that’s way off the mark because there are some small methodological issues there…

  9. The Internetz
    3 Dec 13
    9:22 am

  10. …OR, in the spirit of the article, is mUmBRELLA moving into sponsored content? #firstsponsoredpostperhaps 😉

    Despite the obvious bias of the research sample, it would be great to find a mass audience analysis of attitudes towards sponsored content not only on blogs, but in bigger, mainstream online media. Is this covered in Edelman’s Trust Barometer (any insights to share Matt Gain)? I think that’s the bigger issue – Whether audiences trust the content they find on blogs or major media outlets that’s sponsored. They might read it, but does it affect the resonance (and call to action) of the content with the target audience?

  11. Anonymous
    3 Dec 13
    2:48 pm

  12. 3,500 readers on a blog?

    Must be a fake!

  13. Rebecca
    3 Dec 13
    2:52 pm

  14. Was it ever alive?

  15. The Doctor
    3 Dec 13
    5:05 pm

  16. We have an update. 100% of people who responded to the survey open survey links!

  17. Louise Edmonds
    3 Dec 13
    6:52 pm

  18. What Lorraine is saying is very true. And I’m not being biased as she actually turned our site away from being part of her agency. Reason being is much of the storytelling content comes from me (and I don’t advertise myself). However; we’re just about to work with Jay-Z and the agency is certainly listening to us to make sure the content is best suited to our readers who we know best. Hope that helps!

  19. Peter Bray
    4 Dec 13
    3:09 am

  20. Absolutely true. Agencies need to assume an ECD role when it comes to influencer engagement, and let the owners of the audience, being the bloggers/influencers, do what they do best. Craft the briefs for the influencers so they know the parameters within which they can play.