It’s Ad Week New York and the Financial Times is using the opportunity to unveil its branded content unit FT² that will help advertisers better match their commercial messaging to FT editorial content in a number of ways.
FT² was unveiled earlier today (28 September) with launch partners the Zurich Insurance Group and Santander. The title's commercial arm claimed it will double-down on using digital tools to better aid its commercial content creation, including the use of data analytics, plus semantic targeting tools.
The new unit effectively combines all aspects of the outfit’s content marketing capabilities which now include the newly launched Paid Posts product that lets advertisers insert “client-voiced” messaging into the title’s news feed, according to Dominic Good, FT global advertising sales director.
He added: “FT² is a new brand that describes all the things that we do in the content marketing space. This is to give it an identity in the marketplace, and it comes at the same time as we’re launching a new product within that range, which are call Paid Posts.
“One of the reasons we are creating a brand is that we’ve perhaps not made as much of our content creating capabilities. We’ve always been in content creation, but it is mostly on the sponsorship model, but now we’re moving to a platform that lets brands speak more directly to our audience.”
Good described Paid Posts as “similar” to the New York Times offering, adding that it gives clients the ability to promote content that’s “client voiced”, yet produced by writers sourced by the FT. Although it is deliberately flagged as ‘paid post from…’ (See image above).
“There are specific rules as to how that looks, with a slightly different font, etc., so it’s clear to the reader that it is content on behalf of a client, and there are no bylines from the FT, plus a disclaimer.”
The FT feels emboldened over how readers will react to sponsored content on the site, particularly as a recent survey of its readership indicated that 74 per cent said they’d be “interested or very interested” to read select number of corporate brands”, as long as it was clearly labelled.
Additionally, there are checks and balances in place to assure that clients trying to buy their way into the FT’s coverage are in keeping with both the brand equity of the title, as well as its ethical standards.
“Ultimately, editorial has discretion over what we run, in both advertising and content marketing. Is there anything we feel concerned about, we pass it on to the compliance department, as well as the legal and editorial team,” he added.
This new production team will also look to offer clients “more immersive storytelling techniques”, including video, and other multimedia products, in addition to its longstanding strategy of working with brands to create new content that is “FT-voiced” and that brands are able to sponsor.
Within FT2 there are a number of existing products, such as its semantic content-matching service Smart Match, which is powered by a third party called Smartology. This technology can trawl a brand’s existing body of content, and then place it in an ad unit, which is then matched to the most appropriate editorial content on the FT.
“The people and processes that sit behind those products in particular are analytical tools that inform advertisers about content that would be relevant, and the general content marketing team,” said Good.
“The fundamental principle underlying our advertising offering is that advertisers buy a top quality media platform which in turn rests on editorial independence,” he added.
“This is why readers spend more than three times as long on FT.com than the average reader does on other media sites, and this is why our CPH [cost per hour] advertising metric has been so popular.”
Good further explained how the title was “famously cautious” before entering the native advertising – or content marketing – space, as the title has been eager not to replicate “the clear examples of where brands have got it wrong”, according to Good.
He added: “We’ve had a look, and got a good understanding of what to avoid in order to keep the trust of our readership.”
Is sponsored content a cure for ad blocking?
Market observers are keen to point out how native content services may be one route to offset the rise of ad blockers (be it real or imagined), which have emerged as one of the key industry trends in 2015, at least in terms of media coverage, not least because of an ad from ad blocking outfit Shine Technologies which ran in the FT itself.
Good explained to The Drum his outfit was in the process of working with Sourcepoint, a service that claims to help publishers minimise the problem of ad blocking, to assess how much the emergence of such technologies was affecting the FT.
“We’re not doing it [increasing its sponsored content activities] in response to ad blocking, it has just suddenly become a massive thing, but until recently it was something that people weren’t really talking about. That said, we’ve been talking about native, for a long, long time,” he said.
“Clearly if you do native advertising through the content management systems of websites, then clearly you are outside of the ad blocking ecosystem in theory, but I don’t know how long that will remain.
”However, yes this kind of activity could be a way to generate revenues in an ad blocked world, but I don’t think it will emerge quickly enough if it rises to become a ‘major thing’.”