Why interactivity is taking over publishers’ native ads

What’s old is new again. “Interactivity,” the ad industry buzzword circa 2006, is making a comeback along with the ascent of native advertising.

Both BuzzFeed and Quartz have made the idea central to their recent sponsored ad campaigns. BuzzFeed, working alongside Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, created an interactive “Summer To-Do Calendar” that lets readers find relevant BuzzFeed editorial and sponsored content for each day of the summer. Leinenkugel’s custom posts have gotten more than 558,000 views from social channels.

In a similar vein, BuzzFeed is also quietly testing a new article format that lets readers re-rank list articles based on their own tastes. Rogaine, an early partner for the new format, used it for a story about “The Definitive Ranking of World Cup Upsets.” Both efforts are no-brainers for BuzzFeed, which has already cornered the market for interactive ad content with its branded quizzes.

“Interactivity is important for brand programs on BuzzFeed because it helps spark sharing,” said Stephane Krzywoglowy, BuzzFeed’s director of ad product, who added that BuzzFeed plans to bring the branded calendar product to its regular editorial content.

BuzzFeed, however, isn’t the only publisher bringing interactivity to its sponsored content. Quartz, working alongside sponsor U.S. Trust, recently put together an interactive chart that explored the details of speakers at The Atlantic’s Aspen Ideas Festival. The chart let readers break down speakers by industry, gender and even whether they have Wikipedia pages (roughly half do).


Joy Robins, vp of advertising and strategy at Quartz, said that the format makes sense for Quartz’s audience, which is already attracted to the visual, chart-driven format of its editorial content.

“We try to bring that same approach to our sponsor content,” she said. “Everyone’s doing native, but what’s really important is to think about the user and what they respond to on your site. You have to bring what works to your native advertising side as well.”

Blame the rise of interactivity on the continue decline of the beleaguered banner ad. Dips in both display ad CPMs and visibility are forcing publishers to craft better ad products that also hold readers’ attention like regular content does. So goes the pitch for native advertising, which is predicated on the idea that readers will read and recall brand content better than brand banners, which are nearly invisible by comparison.

Interactive content takes that further. As metrics like “attention minutes” and “engaged time” start to take center stage, publishers are eager to push whatever ad product gets readers to pay attention. Advertisers are paying for eyeballs, after all.

“Our partnership with BuzzFeed is part of a broader digital strategy designed to reach beer lovers at the right time, in the right place, and with the right message,” said Ryan Hemsing, senior marketing manager at Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company. “And interactive content allows us to create a deeper connection with beer drinkers.”

Steve Carbone, managing director at MediaCom, said that all the research his team has done has supported one conclusion: The more users interact with an ad, the more likely they are to click through or transact in some way. “Anything that causes users to engage more is good for the brand.”


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