Publishers warm to DoubleRecall’s paywall buster

Wall falls

It’s been a decade now that online publishers have wrestled with the same wretched dilemma: give content away for free and lose money or put up a paywall and lose audience. Now, finally, the logjam is beginning to break.

A series of subtle solutions are emerging such as metered paywalls that let publishers allow casual readers into their sites. But the cleverest idea yet may be from DoubleRecall, a startup whose ad tool is being embraced by major news brands.

We first met DoubleRecall last summer through this profile by my colleague Ryan Kim. Since then, the company’s concept is getting traction from publishers around the world.

The idea boils down to this. Right now, many sites stop readers in their tracks with a paywall like this one:

What DoubleRecall does instead is create an advertising roadblock that readers can hop over by typing in a word or two. For instance, you might be prompted to type in “vacation” in response to an American Airlines ad or “happy cat” in response to a Friskies ad. After you do that, you can read all the website’s stories for the rest of the day.

DoubleRecall has taken off in Europe where the company says its ads are being used by 20 publishers and over 200 brands. Here’s a Ford ad from the Slovenian edition of Cosmo where the reader is prompted to type “Fiesta trend:”

The ads are appearing across Europe and in Japan, and are coming to America via El Diario-publisher Impremedia. DoubleRecall also says it is in the “contract phase” with a major english language newspaper publisher.

In a recent interview, CEO Robert Farazin said the startup relocated to New York City from Palo Alto in order to be closer to America’s publishers and advertisers. He named Aflac as one brand that is signing up to buy ads.

Make money and keep the audience?

DoubleRecall says publishers can charge a premium for the ads because of their high audience engagement which, according to Farazin, is between 50 and 90 percent. He adds that only one percent of readers will engage a paywall.

The company says the interactive ads are a good bet for advertisers because readers are 11 times more likely to recall the underlying brand. (Under the DoubleRecall scheme, the brand message is reinforced by showing it again at the end of a story).

While we have to take the company at its word, the numbers don’t seem far-fetched. Also, DoubleRecall’s reported growth in Europe suggests that both advertisers and publishers are betting real money on this approach.

Farazin is touting the technology as a “complementary solution” which means publishers can try it out alongside other revenue schemes like paywalls that may be in place already. This double-barreled approach is a good idea given that many readers will never accept a paywall at all — more and more, it looks like the future is not about “pay vs free” but instead about finding the right hybrid model in which publishers can reap subscription revenue from a core minority of devout readers while also topping up with ad revenue from casual visitors.

DoubleRecall isn’t the first, of course, to offer new types of online ad opportunities. In the last year, websites like AdWeek have been experimenting with a variety of mini-surveys in which a reader must answer a question to read a story:

This seemingly smart market research idea may soon stumble, however, as readers get used to the surveys and simply mash their mouse button to get through to the story.

Time will tell if DoubleRecall is another flash-in-the-pan novelty or if its forced engagement model will continue to gain traction as a pillar of online advertising.

DoubleRecall was hatched last summer by prominent startup backer Y-Combinator and has reportedly received $1.6 million in funding in recent months.

(Image by Artyfree via Shutterstock)


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