CNN overhauls its native ads to strengthen its ‘premium of premium’ ads

Capitaland native ad

Native isn’t the future it’s already taking over CNN’s commercial strategy, with the publisher accelerating efforts to earn more from what it calls “the premium of premium” ads in a move that will pave the way for programmatic native.

To do this, CNN International Commercial (CNNIC) has partnered with native advertising platform Sharethrough. The platform allows publishers to manage and execute full-stack native advertising strategies in the same way that they monetise banner ads, so native ads can be bought at scale.

Each native campaign lives within the editorial feed, so publishers have to implement measures to maintain the quality of such ads. Since CNN views native as “the premium of the premium”, the native spots will have a pricetag that matches its position as “the top of its product offering”, CNNIC's director of digital revenue and data, Rob Bradley told The Drum.

“We are going to make sure it is always sold and kept at a premium for telling good brand stories,” he added.

Through the partnership, CNN has launched a number of new dynamic native and branded content advertising formats in prominent positions across CNN Digital including verticals CNN Money, CNN Style, CNN Travel and CNN Sport. These include instant play native video, graphic text over video, infographics, long-form video, articles and galleries, all focused on mobile.

The content will match the style of CNN editorial content (mainly because CNN will be creating most of it in-house), with the ability to be placed directly in editorial streams alongside relevant CNN editorial videos and articles.

Advertisers using the new formats will be able to tap into data from CNN’s ad tech platform Audience Measurement Insight (AIM), which monitors audiences based on what sites they visit prior to arriving at CNN, among other things. In theory this enables advertisers to target specific audience segments, conduct A/B testing of creative executions, and optimise campaigns in real-time.

The partnership marks an important step in CNN’s move away from the banner toward more creative solutions. The publisher has restructured around selling creative solutions that CNN’s in-house creative agency/studio Create can develop and build, with its sales team “rarely going out and just selling banners or preroll”.

The native solutions works to benefit both CNN, which can sell the ads at a premium, and advertisers looking for engaged audiences, with CNN claiming dwell time of 2-3 minutes on an average native article. The Sharethrough/Nielsen Neuroscience Study reports that native ads receive double the visual attention than banner ads.

That said, Bradley asserted while the business is committed to moving away from the banner, that the format “is not going to disappear from the website anytime soon”. CNN International is a “scaled business”, he continued that runs millions of ads a month. Banners play an important role in making up those numbers as well as growing the impression volumes and audience targeting capability around branded content due to cross buys with native ads.

Dan Greenberg, the chief executive of Sharethrough, a 100 per cent native ad tech company, agreed: “banners, preroll and traditional interruptive ads have a place”.

“If you can force interruption, that type of advertising does work,” he said. “It is not great for the user but it does work from an advertiser standpoint if you can force someone to watch your ad.”

“The challenge and the reason native exists is because of the new cohort of people who are no longer interruptible,” he added.

While the sell for native is clear, the ad units are by and large more resource intensive to produce and maintain for brand and publisher respectively compared to other formats. What that does mean is that a publisher needs a whole lot more resources than it has ever had. To cope with this, CNN is resourcing up its branded content studio Create. Now 54 per cent of CNN International Commercial’s digital revenues come out of the studio.

As it stands, native ads will only be purchasable via an insertion order but the publisher plans to sell native programmatically “in a controlled manner” through Sharethrough’s private marketplace, Bradley said.

While some media heads have argued native programmatic is counter-intuitive, Greenberg thinks it makes for “a lot more sophisticated advertising”. He claimed the union of the two allows advertisers to match data around what types of ads people are likely to see or click and optimise for the highest performing variants of all their different ads. That data element is at the heart of it.

“You take the human element of native as an ad format with the technical sophistication of programmatic as a buying model,” he said.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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