Good Advertising,
Strong Communities
and Bob Dylan

Good Advertising,
Strong Communities
and Bob Dylan

By Jason Lydiate


To paraphrase the great singer-songwriter, "Chaos is your friend." And ad units that don't fit the traditional models do really well.


Online publishing, for all the technology it relies on, has been unusually slow to innovate when it comes to advertising. But, like Dylan said, "The times they are a-changing." After years of being locked into publishing platforms that could only cope with Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) standards, new technology means publishers are starting to explore new formats. It's not been an easy ride.

Developments such as click-word models were difficult to sell to publishers who faced vehement opposition from editorial staff. But if we go for another Dylan reference, you've "Gotta Serve Somebody" nicely encapsulates the feeling that advertising serves advertisers and viewers, not editors.

Love it or loathe it, click-words are a good example of how (some) publishers are willing to take risks. Ad formats that are new to the user come with added curiosity value, and with curiosity comes investigation. Ironically, online advertising needs to work on its own advertising. When I speak to publishers, I don't talk about an expandable unit, I just show them Say Media's ad units and demonstrate how cool they actually are.

Different forms of advertising that are more unusual are being embraced by publishers a lot more than they were in the past. Viewers like to see different, more visually exciting elements on a Web page, which is hardly surprising given that they've largely been clicking on 68 by 468 pixel banners for the past 20 years. Ad units that don't fit the traditional models do really well.

Bringing It All Back Home

Innovative advertising is only as good as the viewers who can see it, and that's where audiences are key. Local media publishers can really benefit from innovative advertising; they're the ones with strong community audiences. Larger national newspaper titles have spent the past five years struggling with pay walls — an issue that just doesn't exist in the local news landscape.

Paul Hood is digital director at Archant, one of the U.K.'s largest independent media businesses, active in the fields of regional news, magazines and websites. He knows better than anyone that competition in the news media space where Archant operates is particularly fierce. Using London as an example, at least five prominent news media brands in the city are dedicated to delivering news and sports information to a London-centric audience.

"Across the London region, Archant publishes 16 newspaper titles, each with its own website," Hood says. "The question we asked ourselves was, ‘How can we leverage our high-quality local coverage of London's biggest news and sports stories and bring them to a wider pan-London audience?' Our answer was to create a new, digital-only news media brand and focus on addressing the gap in the market.

"The result was London24, a London-centric news media proposition produced exclusively by knowledgeable, local, London-based journalists. Local freesheets do a great job of catering to the commuter — the top national and London news stories are well-packaged and presented to give a good overview. But there was no news media brand covering London from the local angle."

Slow Train Coming

In February 2011, London24 launched. Eighteen months later, it is No. 2 in the market and on track to be profitable by 2013.

Local community-based titles such as London24 represent just how powerful the combination can be when you have engaging advertising built around relevant, compelling content. Engagement rates on regional U.K. press are close to 2 percent, which stacks up favorably against an average of 0.8 percent.

What becomes obvious from this stat? Community and special-interest sites are hotbeds of engagement, which is strong incentive for media owners in this space to focus on their core audiences and avoid the temptation to dilute their audience as they attempt to increase it with more middle-of-the-road content. An engaged community equals more passion. We call this Point-Of-View Publishing and believe it's the key to success for the media companies of the future. It's important to keep up too-because as Dylan put in '78, there really is "No Time to Think."

Jason Lydiate is head of business development at Say Media UK.