Hearst Magazines launches new ad unit that will send people product samples

Advertisers have long found success in offering consumers a try-before-you-buy strategy. Hearst Magazines is hoping those advertisers will use Hearst’s Instagram and Facebook audiences to drive that sampling.

On Thursday, May 30, Hearst Magazines will launch Sample Ignition 360, a social media ad product designed to get product samples into consumers’ hands. The ad type, which Hearst is deploying in partnership with a company called SoPost, give people the chance to request free samples of a product in exchange for their email address and shipping information. Rather than hand the leads off to the advertisers, Hearst packages and ships the products to the customers directly and, if the advertiser wants it, checks back in with sample-takers via email, soliciting feedback and encouraging users to write reviews for the brand to use.

Advertisers can distribute the sample ads as advertisements via Facebook and Instagram, or within Hearst Magazine titles’ Instagram or Facebook Stories. In the former case, advertisers can target a demographic audience designed using Hearst’s data management platform. In the latter, advertisers target by Hearst title.

Hearst declined to answer questions about the price of Ignition 360 ads, saying only that it charged a price per lead, rather than a CPM, which varied based on factors including the products sampled and the fulfillment costs; the baseline is a shipment of 10,000 units of a sample product.

Though Hearst expects the Ignition ads to satisfy pent-up demand in some advertising categories, particularly beauty, skincare and food, product leaders also expect that it will give them access to a whole new class of advertisers, who would prefer to pay for a business outcome, rather than top-of-funnel metrics such as brand awareness.

“We know our readers want to try the things we talk about,” said Sam Gladis, executive director of ad product marketing at Hearst Magazines. “What we’ve found is that there is a desire within the organization, with our ad partners, to find new and unique ways of engaging with our consumer. We map to what the market tells us is important.”

If the advertiser wants, Hearst can retarget people who claimed samples across channels, including its websites and on social channels, though that would have to happen as part of a subsequent campaign.

Publishers have gotten more comfortable using Instagram to drive commerce on behalf of their advertisers, not just by distributing branded content but by putting links to advertisers’ pages directly in front of their readers. New York Media, for example, began using Instagram accounts it operates for the Cut and Strategist to distribute advertiser content that drives users directly to advertisers’ shopping pages.

The sampling ads are part of a broader move at Hearst Magazines to give advertisers a wider window of access to its audiences. Last year, Hearst began allowing advertisers to target its readers with brief surveys in the body of articles; it has been adding affiliate commerce to its titles for years.

Though Sample Ignition 360 will be confined to social channels for now, the goal is to create versions of the product that can be distributed across Hearst’s other channels, including its owned and operated websites.


From left to right: A screenflow of how Hearst’s ads will work on Instagram.

Instagram has become a more capable commerce platform in 2019, starting with a closed beta program that allowed large brands to sell products directly inside the Facebook-owned mobile app. The test has driven big gains in online sales for test participants including Adidas, which credited Instagram with a 40 percent increase in online sales through the first three months of 2019.

“It has a lot of potential, if executed properly,” said Steve Weiss, the CEO of the Facebook agency MuteSix. “There’s a lot of noise in paid media. The name of the game is getting products into consumers’ hands.”


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