Digital advertising might not be dead yet, but it's in a pretty bad state. Outdated formats make it hard for publishers to compete with big tech and social media for ad revenue. Is there a way to fix this?
Three trends are creating momentum for something new in publishers' ad space: the growth of mobile news consumption, media companies putting readers first and the ubiquity of branded content.
The first trend
Readers are flocking to mobile
Mobile is no longer an afterthought, it has become the primary means for readers to consume digital news. In the Netherlands, mobile readers account for more than 55 per cent of traffic to quality news media. Users demand a fast-loading uncluttered reading experience on their mobile device.
Publishers have invested passionately in designing and building beautiful mobile-friendly websites and dedicated apps. Advertising however, has not caught up.
Ads live in outdated boxes
Online display advertising still relies on boxy formats invented in the late '90's, made to fill gaps in the lay-out of the first news websites. So far, major waves of advertising innovation focused on targeting, tracking and automation, while the design remained constrained to oddly-shaped rectangles that don't feel native to a mobile screen.
It's time publishers and advertisers to take advantage of the full canvas offered by mobile screens, adapting to their dimensions, while drawing readers in instead of scaring them off.
The second trend
Publishers are putting readers first
After a frenzied period of expanding their reach through distributing stories for free on social media, news media publishers are changing their course. Relying on external platforms can help you built a readership quickly, but offers too little control to retain and monetise it. That's why media companies returned to their senses and increasingly focus on offering readers the best experience on their own platform.
Caring about the flat plan
The contemporary recipe for news media survival is quality journalism, delivered in a beautiful digital design, for loyal readers and paying subscribers. As publishers strive to offer the best reading experience to readers that pay or must be temped to pay, they 'care about the flat plan' more than ever. Ugly and aggressive banner ads don't fit into this picture. Neither do uninspired advertorials or clickbait-infested native advertising.
Protecting editorial independence
News brands that focus on retaining the loyalty of readers, are very protective of their reputation. Blurring the line between independent editorial stories and commercial messages erodes the trust of the reader and raised eyebrows in the newsroom. Branded stories should therefore only be displayed on the digital pages of quality media if they are instantly recognizable as such. Now more than ever, the barrier between 'Church and State' should stand tall.
The third trend
Brands are craving a quality audience for their stories
Over the last ten years, almost every brand has invested in storytelling, content marketing and even in-house editorial teams. Particularly brands with a strong purpose have discovered the ability to engage an audience with meaningful content. In industries like finance, luxury, hospitality, healthcare, energy, tech and automotive, branded stories are plentiful. Reader attention however, is scarce.
Social turned from earned to paid
Brands with a strong point-of-view, who are keen to share an interesting vision on the future, will find that their own channels mostly reach an audience that's already familiar with it. To expand their reach, they mostly rely on paid promotion on social platforms, like LinkedIn and Instagram. These are places of feverish competition for attention, where dominant tech monopolists constantly change the rules and the rates.
An alternative showcase
Publishers of quality news media are perfectly positioned to offer advertisers an alternative solution for distributing for branded stories. Mobile-first and easy to use. With a design that respects the boundary between journalism and advertising and is worthy of the readers' trust.