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Though they are often cast as distinct business models, advertising and paid content are not necessarily mutually exclusive – or are they?
Observations from Times Newspapers’ digital properties point to two different answers…
In one, The Times is now selling full-page display campaigns in to its iPad app, for which readers pay £9.99 per month. Campaigns spotted by paidContent:UK are for IBM and Lloyds TSB, occupying four pages each in Monday’s third edition. Each includes a video overlay containing the companies’ existing TV ads.
The Financial Times had made its iPad edition free for two initial months thanks to a big headline sponsorship from watchmaker Hublot, but The Times is using iPad to combine both payments and ads, as newspapers do.
Times Newspapers had gone in to its new paid website strategy saying it would continue running ads on the Times and Sunday Times websites despite introducing reader charging. Indeed, its commercial team has promised advertisers “large impactful formats”….
But, in fact, what’s happened is the number of ads has reduced dramatically from when Times Online was freely available. Apart from spots for Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) in Sport and Tavarnello wine in Style, display slots in key website sections are so far mostly occupied by promotions for Times services themselves.
In their place, one thing that is clicking increasingly is a new spin on an old kind of sponsorship – paid editorial…
The Times and Sunday Times sites are running a series of sponsored features and site-lets for Accenture, Courvoisier, Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet and ICIS, each apparently the online extension of a recent paid supplement…
But (and this is interesting) these advertorials are not behind the paywall. The Chevrolet campaign, for an outdoorsy new 4×4, even exists on an external domain name from the main Times site altogether, CoolGlamping.co.uk. Meanwhile, the Accenture campaign is actually for a Business news section called Need To Know, which, despite being presented in navigation as content, is also outside the wall.
One theory about The Times’ recent strategic shift is that the whittling down of its audience to a handful of paying customers would default advertisers’ addressable market to a self-selected group of wealthier readers, with a higher inclination to buy stuff. A contrary theory had been that, actually, advertisers just want scale and would hate losing mass appeal…
Whatever; why would advertisers want to restrict viewing of their ads only to paying readers?
The reduction of conventional web display ads from the Times Online days may suggest advertiser concern at the smaller audience – but it may also be possible for The Times to make some of it up with big-hitting sponsorships from premium brands, and by jumping aboard the nascent iPad advertising rush.