How Food52 is trying to cure the native ad growing pains

Seemingly every publisher has a content studio to chase branded content revenue. Food52 is among the publishers trying to find ways to differentiate, like BuzzFeed with its sponsored quizzes and Bloomberg with sponsored interactive features. One of Food52’s challenges is that food content is everywhere now. Advertisers are also moving away from clicks as a way to measure branded content’s effectiveness in favor of ads that people spend a lot of time with or are shown to drive sales.

“We’re getting more and more requests that we want to tie this branded content into a sales research study,” said Sam Stahl, CRO at Food52. “Everyone’s getting more sophisticated and saying, ‘We’re spending all this money on branded content; we need to see it’s resulting in ROI.’”

Stahl — borrowing from CollegeHumor, where as vp of sales he tried to come up with unique products for advertisers — identified distinct editorial features Food52 had that could bake in advertisers. On its menu generator, for example, people averaged more than 7 minutes a session when it rolled out around Thanksgiving last year, three times as long as the time spent in an average recipe or article. Food52 is updating the menu generator for the back-to-school period and sold it to a food advertiser, which will have custom recipes running alongside the standard editorial-driven recipes.

Food52’s hotline is another feature it’s bringing to advertisers. It’s available all year, but it got the most action from October to December last year, when there were four-plus responses per question on average from users. This fall, Braun will be the presenting sponsor and answer users’ questions.

A third feature Food52 is pitching to advertisers is a Mad Libs-style recipe game that people have spent an average of 3 1/2 minutes with, or more than twice the average time spent on a recipe or article.

Stahl said the ad rate is “significantly higher” for these tools than standard native ads and will contribute to a “big revenue jump” at the company this year. The catch, of course, is they don’t come along every day. “There’s a heavier lift on these,” he said. “But just to create some demand around these things is rare in today’s digital media landscape.”

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