What in the World Is Sponsored Content?

By Alana Domingo, August 08, 2017

The online advertising landscape is changing. People are done dealing with annoying pop-up ads and pages riddled with banners and autoplay videos.

Now, with 615 million devices running ad blocking software, marketers are looking for crafty ways to catch consumer attention. But instead of standing out, they’re trying to blend in. That’s where sponsored content comes into play.

What Is It?

According to Contently’s Joe Lazauskas, sponsored content is brand-sponsored media that appears on publishers’ and influencers’ sites and social platforms. It’s marked by phrases like “presented by” or “promoted by,” as seen in the IAMS cat article below.

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Source: BuzzFeed

Don’t confuse sponsored content with content marketing; they’re not quite the same thing. Sponsored content appears on an external publisher site, such as BuzzFeed or Vox, rather than the brand’s home site or blog. You can also find sponsored posts on social media platforms, usually under the #sponsored hashtag.

Related Post: Content Marketing Like a Journalist

Building brand awareness and trust, not selling a product, is sponsored content’s main goal. Great sponsored content offers value to consumers, whether it’s to be informative or entertaining. But why exactly does sponsored content work?

It’s Native

Source: Giphy

Like our chameleon friend above, sponsored content morphs to match its surroundings. As with native advertising, it seamlessly integrates with a publisher’s website. It’s an article on Mashable, a post on Facebook, or a video on your favorite star’s Snapchat.

Effective sponsored content never reads like an ad, which is why brands commonly leave the creative work to publishers and influencers. They know the ins and outs of their platforms and what their audiences like.

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Source: Bustle

This Del Monte sponsored article is actually written by a Bustle staff writer, not a Del Monte spokesperson. Its content is geared toward Bustle’s target audience: professional Millennial women. The copy and tone fit Bustle’s clear and conversational style. The average Bustle reader might not know this is a marketing piece unless they pay close attention to the “sponsored by” tagline at the top.

It’s Engaging

I’m pretty sure most people would agree that dogs are cool. Do you think Loki is cool enough to get a like from you, or even a comment? He certainly has lots of comments from other people.

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Source: Instagram

Did you notice that Loki’s picture is actually a sponsored Instagram post? Check the hashtags. Loki is actually promoting the Toyota 4Runner in the background.

Related Post: Are Social Media Influencers Worth the Price for Marketers?

People are more likely to engage with sponsored content when it’s designed well. After all, no one trusts an ad that looks bad. High quality images (like Loki’s), free from blatant product placement, feel more natural and make people trust the content, and by extension, the brand.

Traditional digital advertising simply doesn’t compete with sponsored content’s engaging presence. You can’t hit a like button on a display ad, but you can share an article or comment on a video post.

It Tells a Story

Taking cues from content marketing, sponsored content is built on a storytelling format rather than a sales pitch. What distinguishes sponsored content from other similar ad methods, like advertorials, is its purpose. You’re telling a story using a brand instead of telling a story about a brand.

Related Post: 5 Simple Storytelling Tips to Create More Remarkable Ads

Source: YouTube

To celebrate Mother’s Day, Allure partnered with Demeter Fragrance Library to make this cute video. Three boys talk about special moments they’ve had with their moms, like going to beach or making brownies. No one actually says anything specific about Demeter’s products or endorses the brand in any explicit way. By the end, the kids give their moms custom-made Demeter perfumes, all featuring scents akin to their memories.

Storytelling works because it taps into our emotions. As humans, a lot of our decision-making is based around our feelings. That’s why emotional appeals are an advertising staple. Any storytelling done in sponsored content should resonate in people’s minds.

Is Sponsored Content Right for Me?

When used correctly, sponsored content can be a valuable marketing tool. Research different publishers and find ones that mesh well with your brand. Scoping out social media influencers can be advantageous for smaller budgets. Either way, if you’re looking to gain people’s trust or build brand awareness, sponsored content may be worth checking out.

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Alana Domingo

Alana Domingo

Alana Domingo is eZanga's Junior Content Writer. Born in Philadelphia but raised in Delaware, she attended Temple University and earned a BA in Communication Studies, concentrating on contemporary media environments. When she's not working, you can usually find her playing The Sims, reading comic books, and taking care of her three pet frogs. More Articles by Alana Domingo