Branded Content May Be King, But It’s Still Accountable to Someone

    by Ian Gibbs
    September 8, 2016
    Photo by Pawel Furman and used here under a Creative Commons license.

    Ian Gibbs, Head of Commercial Insight at the Guardian, looked at the content measurement conundrum ahead of this week’s IAB UK Content and Native Conference.

    I read a good opinion piece in Mediatel a few weeks back by Thinkbox’s Matt Hill in which he unpicked the hierarchy of ad exposure and provided a much-needed refresher course to those who seem to have forgotten the difference between ad delivery, viewability and attention.

    Just because a metric can be traded on doesn't mean it should be confused with a measure of impact.

    The distinction is an important one: You can trade on delivery and viewability, but currently trading on attention is rare (although the Guardian has recently joined the FT and Economist in doing just that by selling time-based ads). The story of how attention-based metrics need to feature more prominently in programmatic algorithms in order to do justice to premium contextual environments is a story for another day. Rather, for now I want to unpick what this all means for the still relatively nascent branded-content measurement market.



    Just because a metric can be traded on doesn’t mean it should be confused with a measure of impact. It seems that the content industry is all too eager to repeat the same mistakes of the display market in using binary behavioral measures to assess effectiveness… and most of the ills of the digital ad space at the moment, from fraud to ad blocking, can be traced back to that same mistake.

    Consider a survey from eMarketer earlier this year that claims that over three-quarters of European marketers are using website visits as their primary measure of branded content effectiveness, yet less than half are measuring ROI (whether that be brand return or actual sales return, presumably). Visits are important, of course they are: Every brand manager wants people to actually see their content, right? But to use a simple behavioral measure as a metric of impact on your brand is arguably doing more injustice to the rich immersive nature of branded content (when it’s done well!) than clicks do to display ads. So why do we do this then? Simple: Because it’s often too hard to do anything else.


    The measurement of branded content shouldn’t even stop at measuring brand impact. Quality of content is the very measure by which our readers judge us, and media owners need to acknowledge that what they produce has an impact on both their own and their commercial partners’ brands… and this impact needs to be measured, too.

    So what might a simple hierarchy of branded content metrics look like if you want to measure impact in its entirety then?

    1. Content Delivery

    There are all sorts of great platforms out there that allow you to interrogate your branded content and native analytics to within an inch of its life. Polar, Sharethrough, Simplereach, Parsely, Chartbeat and, of course, Google Analytics, to name but a few. They can tell you how much, what and where your content has been viewed, shared and engaged with, and many now offer trading-desk integration to allow you to optimize traffic-driving assets as efficiently as possible. BUT, these are all just behavioral metrics.

    They’re really important, yes, but they only answer the question of how people are engaging with your content, not how the content is impacting your brand. The metrics they track exist above the traditional branding funnel and we need to go deeper to understand longer term impact.

    2. Advertising Impact

    Whether it’s brand or sales impact, measurement of branded content effectiveness can be hard. It’s hard to scale, it’s hard to sample and it’s hard to assess long-term impact. But it’s not impossible, and if you’re clever about how you doing things — building reader panels, keeping a consistent methodology to build a normative database and using sales proxies such as retail store footfall using mobile location data — you can really start to build rich datasets that exponentially unearth new insight into how branded content and native works in general.

    In their analysis of the IPA databank “The Long and Short of It,” Peter Field and Les Binet are quick to remind us that the optimum split between long-term (brand-oriented) ad spend and short-term (response-oriented) ad spend is 60:40. An immediately served branded-content ad survey is by its very nature only going to measure short-term impact, but the brand metrics measured will be a better proxy for long-term impact than clicks or behavioral metrics will ever be.

    3. Media Impact

    This is the piece that so often gets overlooked, yet at the same time is so necessary for completing the circle in terms of content impact. Branded content doesn’t just have an impact on a sponsor’s brand, it impacts perceptions of a publisher’s own brand, too. It has to be seen to be of sufficient qualit,y otherwise the knock-on effect will be a more mistrustful readership who themselves become a less attractive prospect to advertisers… and vice versa, of course!

    Call it what you will — a Media Impact Framework, a Content Feedback Loop or a Theory of Change — either way, tracking editorial inputs and outputs, metrics and attitudes, behaviors and impact with a bird’s eye view is vital if branded content and native advertising are to help the industry alleviate the pressures that the forces of commoditization have brought to the bear on the market, while providing consumers with ad content that has real utility and which, fingers crossed they’ll be less inclined to block.

    Content maybe be king, but just because it is, it needs to be held as accountable as everything else in the ad ecosystem if it’s to thrive.

    With over ten years of experience in media and advertising research and insight, Ian Gibbs currently heads up the Guardian’s Commercial Insight team with a remit to provide the strategic data and insight required to fulfill the Guardian’s long term commercial ambitions. Follow Gibbs @IGDataStories.

    Tagged: behavioral analytics branded content content delivery native advertising the guardian

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