Why marketers and brands shouldn’t turn their backs on digital publishers

For advertisers ready to walk away from digital mastheads, it pays to remember they still deliver one thing in rare supply from the rest of the digital ecosystem – the truth – argues Matt Newcomb in this guest post.

Appearing alongside vetted, fact-based content has always commanded a premium from advertisers, and in an era where a trustworthy voice is hard to find online, that premium is increasingly worthwhile.

When I say ‘the truth’ I actually mean ‘objectivity’ and ‘journalistic rigour’. Say what you will about the mastheads, professional process and standards are more central to their offering than any other online source. More than the many murky, nameless digital sites attracting significant ad spend. Much more than some YouTuber in his basement.

The notion of digital provenance is becoming crucial. Knowing where publishing material is actually coming from, who’s made it, and trusting in the manufacturing process is more important than ever for advertisers. Today – when the internet has morphed into the leading source of misinformation – reliable and trustworthy content is shorthand for premium content. For brands the logic is intuitive, appearing alongside content that’s verified, objective and fact-based makes for powerful, positive branding.

There’s research to back this up. A 2016 Comscore study, which independently used Digital Content Next’s (DCN) stable of publishers as a guide, found that display and video ads in premium environments had 67% higher brand lift than non-premium. The study also found that premium publishers are three times more effective in driving mid-funnel brand lift metrics, including ‘favourability’, ‘consideration’ and ‘intent to recommend’. While some of the uplift was attributed to better viewability rates on premium sites, ComScore credited the bulk of the upswing to the halo effect gained from appearing alongside trusted, recognised mastheads and their content. DCN represents publishers including News Corp, The New York Times, the BBC and Condé Nast.

Ironically, it appears the value of original, fact-based content is most clear to Facebook, which continues to make a successful business model out of publishers’ hard work. Original news content underpins much of how Facebook engages its audience. Anecdotally at least, I hear many people say they get most of their news from Facebook. The platform has done a wonderful job of synthesising the user’s worldview into digestible snippets and feeding it back to them in small acts of reward.

But they’ve succeeded only in building an audience based around habit, not around truth.

The steps Facebook is being compelled to take against fake news is proof that having an audience comes with responsibility to consumers and advertisers. Masthead publishers have known this a long time.

The truth, and the professionalism and resources to deliver it reliably, is an unwavering commodity. Brands who put themselves right next to trustworthy information carry an air of trustworthiness themselves, which translates into better engagement and ROI. While we can segment and target audiences in more ways than ever, it’s important to remember that the most qualified audiences are built around something tangible. Like water and food, a need to know the truth is something we all share. For that reason, the mastheads will continue to have the most premium audience on the market.

Matt Newcomb is the general manager of InSkin Media




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