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‘The ad is yesterday, content is the future’

AOP Editorial/Commercial Forum Highlights - speaker interviews below

Branded content can play an important role in future-proofing media businesses, as long as it’s well sign-posted and transparent. This was the view from publishers, agencies and clients alike at AOP’s Forum on the increasing editorial/commercial cross-over in UK media.

The explosion in online content from all angles means that agencies are ‘no longer the 100lb gorilla in the room’, said Starcom’s Head of Emerging Platforms Oliver Newton. ‘The ad is yesterday, content is the future’, or rather, it’s no longer brands that matter in themselves, but how they interact that will define their success.

One of those brands, innovating directly through content is Alfred Dunhill. Its Head of Digital Richard Ascott explained how, with the launch of content hub Day 8, Dunhill is producing its own quality video content with no ads, product placement, or other strings attached - ‘talking about others’ creativity, not its own’.

The videos profile figures such as Min Kyu Choi, the designer of the Flat Plug, for which he won a British Design Award:

The Flat Plug designed by Min Kyu Choi - Alfred Dunhill

Ascott echoed publishers at the event in highlighting the importance of being transparent and honest when working in brand-funded content, quoting competitors’ forays into video, which lapse into unsignposted product placement.

For Dunhill, how partnerships with publishers might look in this space is still to be worked out - ‘a blank piece of paper’, but there is definitely an appetite for collaboration.

Just as brands move towards producing content which is ‘only designed to be interesting to its audience’, publishers are adapting to a world where advertisers increasingly see content as a significant way of standing out from the crowd.

Aol, Bauer Access & CBSi's approach to branded content

Bauer Access has been set up with this in mind - not just to future-proof its business against dependence on display ads, but also to build a ‘resource, not just a distribution platform’ for brands and agencies which, as a separate unit, doesn’t impinge upon or compromise editorial.

While Bauer has been in the cross-platform campaign business for several years, the investment in Access, said Creative Directors Joe Evea and Brent Coulson, was in project management, and adapting that separate part of the business to longer lead times and planning processes.

Expanding on this theme, with a B2B flavour, CBS Interactive Publishing Director Tony Hallett said that editorial and commercial are ‘now more than ever colliding’, the key is working out ‘when it’s legitimate to cross the line, not just when it makes you money’.
‘Trust will keep us going. Audiences fundamentally have to believe that you believe in quality.’Tony Hallett - CBS Interactive
ZDNet’s Editor coming up with a unique feature for a brand-funded mobile app was just one example, he said, of the creative spark, audience knowledge and true benefits of involving editorial in commercial partnerships.
'Consumers don’t mind brand-funded content, as long as it’s credible, well-presented and engaging.'Noel Penzer - Aol
Rather than helping brands engage with users through content like Bauer Access, Aol, and its European VP of Business Development Noel Penzer are changing the ad format and content mix - the overall web experience, to make both more engaging.

Project Devil by Aol

left - a messy example of the ad/content split & right - how Project Devil promises to streamline & improve this

Codenamed Project Devil, and launching this quarter in the UK, with the help of its Pictela acquisition, Devil comes in the shape of a unique mix of interactive ads (think pictures, video and Gmap of your nearest dealer for a car brand). Penzer quoted some impressive results so far in the US for these immersive formats, claiming they were 33 times more effective than traditional banners, with 75% of viewers watching video content to its end.

A 'hugely adversarial delineation' blurs

In summary, the event’s Chair, Editor Chris Mooney said the ‘hugely adversarial’ delineation between editorial and commercial of 15 years ago is now increasingly blurred. Meanwhile, more and more advertisers and agencies see the benefit of producing high quality content to getting themselves noticed.

If handled correctly, a blending of these core functions, while simultaneously keeping them distinct (as both Aol and Bauer seem to have done) can only mark out publishers as having a unique proposition.

In a market where, to quote Starcom’s Newton, ‘Half the Library of Congress worth of content passes its pipes every second,’ the importance of a unique approach has never been greater.

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