How To Make Digital Advertising Work For You

Digital Advertising That Works

In Autumn 2018, at the National Newspaper Association’s annual trade show, ZEEN101’s Pete Ericson led a roundtable discussion on digital advertising.

The consensus was that digital advertising is a mess (big surprise). Fortunately, when traditional methods falter, innovators will always come up with something new.

You just have to think on a new level.

Ban the banners

The painful truth is that many traditional advertising methods don’t really work in the digital space.

The most direct translation of old-school advertisements to the web is, of course, the infamous banner ad.

Banner ads are visual banners or boxes that frame a given webpage. They promote a company, product, or service, just like any roadside billboard. They may or may not be relevant to the actual page content.

Readers hate them. Some readers will, given the option, actually pay a small fee to avoid seeing them at all.

And if they don’t actively block them, they completely ignore them. It’s a phenomenon called ‘banner blindness’ and it’s real. Banner ads and the products they advertise have become white noise, just another thing for readers to tune out.

That’s why the new successes in digital advertising don’t stem from interrupting the feed. You have to become part of the feed.

You have to start thinking about sponsorships.

Personal and Relevant

Sponsored content doesn’t have to start so far afield from the traditional advertising you know.

Do you have an email newsletter? (You definitely should.) Sell ad space in your newsletter. They’re still display ads, but they should be relevant to your actual audience and approved by you, a source your readers trust. 

Elegant email sponsorship


Likewise, if you run a podcast, you can name-drop your paid sponsors briefly each episode. It’s not intrusive, it comes from a source they trust, and is relevant to the content they’re already enjoying.

This same principle holds true for your print and visual content. Spotlight News has mastered the art of the sponsored photo gallery. They supply their readers with tons of  images from local events, all with a discrete sponsorship logo in the corner.

You can do the same with whole special issues. You decide to collect a Mother’s Day Issue or a Sports Issue or a Local Music Issue? Find a relevant advertiser who is willing to pay you to have their name and logo attached.

Become Your Advertisement

The next step is to move from sponsored content to its near neighbor, native content. Native content doesn’t just harmonize with the rest of your content, it is your content.

Choose a topic you really care about, that you would normally print. It can be an article or a series or an editorial or anything you genuinely think would be valuable.

Find an advertiser relevant to your content. You’re writing about a local health issue? Talk to the local hospital or doctor’s offices. You’re discussing changes in tourism? Talk to a hotel chain.

Then co-write the article with their acknowledged input. Your readers will be exposed not only to their name, but their goodwill. After all, this doctor or hotel or flower shop has provided them with something of value.

The Atlantic did a fabulous job of this, in partnership with smart home giant Nest.

The articles are everything you expect from The Atlantic: well-researched, thoughtful pieces on the nature of sanctuary, but delving into the effect of connected homes and devices on the communities of the future.

Each article includes pictures of the products discussed, interviews with product users, and quotes from the Nest team.

And at the top, there is a discreet header that acknowledges Nest’s contribution.

It’s a perfect example of what sponsored content should be: just like all your other content.

Bring the market To Life

You can actually achieve a similar effect with your digital classified section, with tools like LiveMarket. Create a section for local promotions on your featured pages. Give advertisers access to instant ad creation for a monthly fee.

They will create their own ads for promotions relevant to your audience, posted in a prominent but not disruptive space on pages your audience actually reads.

It’s a win for everyone.

Move Forward

Native and sponsored content are the digital advertising of the future.

Are you ready to learn more about making your digital advertising a success? Let’s talk.

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