The latest example is a tool called Ricochet that lets companies strap their ads to a New York Times article. The ads go wherever the article goes — on Facebook, Twitter and so on.
The tool is a clever acknowledgement of the social nature of news, and gives companies a new way to leverage so-called “earned media.”
In practice, it might work like this: Lollipop Inc signs a contract that lets it pick ten articles about lollipops (or any other story that is consistent with its brand strategy) that appear in the New York Times. Each article then comes with a unique URL that ensures that Lollipop’s ads appear alongside the story.
The strategy requires, of course, that the ad buyer works to get the story seen in the first place. The buyer can do this in many ways — tweeting it, putting the story on its homepage, on a Facebook account or in a news letter. Doing so lets brands not only get more exposure for their ads but also deepen their relationships with their audience.
“Researchers are finding that people are turning to brands not just for commercial information but for useful, relevant information in general,” says Michael Zimbalist, VP of R&D operations at the New York Times Company.
But will Ricochet actually take off? So far, the Times has signed up software giant SAP (here’s an example of the ads in action) and Zimbalist says it is working with several large clients.
An intriguing question is whether the Times will be able to scale the tool for the likes of Acme Bookshop or other small players who could never afford to advertise on the New York Times website.
Zimbalist says Ricochet is a “very simple product” and that the company is working to make it available off-the-shelf to a variety of clients.
The product also raises questions about breaking news stories and exclusivity of ad purchases. Would Google be able to use Ricochet to place ads beside a story like “Exclusive: iPad 6 launched”? For now, the Times is imposing a time delay for companies that want to buy ads for stories in which they are mentioned but, otherwise, the fine points are still evolving.
Ricochet also provides ad buyers with a tool that lets them track how an article cascades through Twitter and other social sites. The service, developed in the Times R&D lab, also provides access to content from About.com and the Boston Globe.