By Benjamin Mullin
As tech giants tighten their grip on online advertising, digital publishers are working together to sell ad campaigns
In a digital advertising market dominated by Google and Facebook, publishers are teaming up to leverage their combined reach to win campaigns from major advertisers.
PopSugar and Complex, digital media companies that focus primarily on millennial women and men, respectively, agreed earlier this year to team up to jointly develop and sell branded advertising. The first example of that partnership is a campaign for the clothing retailer Banana Republic designed to run across both of their properties.
The branded campaign, called “From Where We Stand,” includes three documentary-style videos featuring celebrity couple Bryan Greenberg of HBO’s “How to Make It in America” and Jamie Chung of Fox’s “The Gifted” discussing how their different points of view fit into a shared identity.
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In addition to running on PopSugar.com and Complex.com, the video ads are also appearing on the company’s YouTube pages and social feeds, including Facebook and Instagram. The publishers are splitting revenue from the campaign, which began in late November and is running until early December.
In recent years, several media companies have forged alliances to sell advertising across a broader swath of properties in order to compete with the enormous reach wielded by platforms such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook. Concert, a joint initiative from NBCUniversal and Vox Media launched in 2016, allows advertisers to buy advertisements across both companies’ digital properties. That same year, media companies including Gannett, McClatchy, Tronc and Hearst launched Nucleus Marketing Solutions to provide marketing services to customers in their collective advertising markets.
“In general, the marketplace consolidation that’s being driven by major platforms is creating an atmosphere where independent media companies need to present advertisers with novel ideas,” said Geoff Schiller, chief revenue officer at PopSugar.
Although he declined to provide a specific dollar figure for the Banana Republic campaign, PopSugar Chief Executive Brian Sugar said advertising alliances with other publishers have their trade-offs. On the one hand, he said, partnering with another publisher significantly increases the possibility of closing a deal because advertisers can reach a larger, more diversified audience for their buck. On the other hand, each publisher is left with half of the total price of the ad campaign.
The deal between PopSugar and Complex is their latest foray into branded content, which has been one of the few bright spots for publishers in digital advertising. Although branded content is difficult to scale, its bespoke nature allows publishers to differentiate themselves from tech platforms, charge a premium for campaigns, and appeal to advertisers who are trying to craft a tailor-made message.
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“What we look to from digital publishers is a way to get original content developed in a disruptive way that is authentic,” said Mary Alderete, chief marketing officer for Banana Republic.
PopSugar and Complex—which drew 34.2 million and 47.3 million visitors in October, respectively, according to comScore—both plan to pursue joint branded content campaigns with retailers next year.
For PopSugar, branded content now represents roughly 60% of its total revenue, with advertising from retailers up 25% so far this year compared with the same period a year ago. Branded and sponsored content, which comprised 12% of Complex’s total revenue in 2016, will represent between 30% and 32% of the company’s total revenue in 2017, said Rich Antoniello, the founder and CEO of Complex.
“I think it’s really important to not try and just win on scale alone,” Mr. Antoniello said. “I think that’s where a lot of people make mistakes. The way to differentiate yourself and provide value to the advertiser is to bring storytelling and content development to the mix.”
Corrections & Amplifications
Mary Alderete is the chief marketing officer for Banana Republic. An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Ms. Alderete as the chief marketing officer of both Gap and Banana Republic. (Dec. 4, 2017)