Should online publishers help advertisers connect with readers? Social networks, mobile apps, and other tools let businesses reach and interact with consumers. So why shouldn't publishers facilitate conversations between advertisers and their audiences too?
"Our goal is to extend the Forbes reach, to make our magazine and Forbes.com a forum for journalists, consumers and marketers," Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin blogged last week.
Under Forbes Media's ad sponsorship program called AdVoice, businesses can pay Forbes to write and publish articles for the print magazine or its website. Online, a sponsor's articles appear under a Forbes URL such as blogs.forbes.com/MYCOMPANY.
To date, debate over AdVoice centers on whether advertiser content is clearly labeled. That's important, but there's more riding on this gamble than labels.
If these advertiser blogs resonate with readers, Forbes.com could:
Forbes.com Test Bed: SAP
Business software maker SAP became the first marketer to roll out a sponsored blog on Forbes.com last week.
SAP's goal? "To enable SAP thought leaders to share insights and experiences with a core audience of technology and business decision makers about topics that are relevant to helping businesses run better," Jim Dever, head of Americas media relations at SAP, wrote in an e-mail interview. He said it's too soon to determine results from the effort.
Critics contend that Forbes has failed to clearly label the sponsored content – a complaint that Forbes rejects.
Let's take a look.
When you click on, "What is this?" you'll see:
The American Society of Magazine Editors, which maintains guidelines to prevent editorial-advertising conflicts, objects to AdVoice's design.
"Advertiser-supplied content, whether in print or online, should not look like editorial content," ASME CEO Sid Holt told AdAge.com. "If the SAP page is a paid ad," he said, "it violates that principle."
In an e-mail, Forbes Chief Revenue Officer Kevin Gentzel told ClickZ:
"The SAP Forbes AdVoice is clearly identified as Forbes AdVoice in large type with a tab next to it explaining what AdVoice is: a message to and from marketers to the Forbes audience. It has a line underneath highlighting it. The blog is clearly identified as being written by an author from SAP. There is not one part of this that is not transparent and does not clearly identify this as an AdVoice product."
Transparency and clear labels, he insisted, are important to AdVoice's success
Online Ad Sponsorships: Back Story
Online ad sponsorships accounted for only 2 percent of all online ad spending in 2009, down from 26 percent in 2001, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau/PricewaterhouseCoopers Internet ad revenue report.
The IAB sees anecdotal signs of renewed interest in sponsorships. "Sponsorships are enjoying real popularity on smartphones and the iPad these days…It's a hot area with very little in the way of standardized ads yet, so sponsorships are a natural way to monetize and for brands to be seen," said Joe Laszlo, IAB's research director.
To be sure, Forbes.com continues to offer "traditional" sponsorships – where a brand's advertisement plus the words "sponsored by" appear next to independently produced articles. Enterprise search software company Autonomy, for instance, is the sponsor of Forbes.com's CMO section.
(Disclosure: ClickZ offers ad sponsorships for its columns written by and for marketers. Sponsors at ClickZ have no input regarding the content.)
The price for an AdVoice sponsorship is higher than traditional sponsorships, according to a Forbes Media spokeswoman. The publisher didn't disclose its rates. AdVoice sponsorships require a minimum commitment of three months; content will live indefinitely in Forbes.com archives.
Currently, paid blog posts do not appear in on-site search results, but that will change. "As we continue to re-architect the site so it's all on the same CMS, there will be search results for AdVoice," Gentzel said.
Offline, marketers produce and pay to publish special advertising sections or advertorials in newspapers and magazines. As Quentin Hardy, Forbes national editor, commented on Twitter: "all my bias aside, how is AdVoice so different from the advertorials we've seen for 30 years?"
Test: What's Your Preference?
So far, SAP published these and other posts on Forbes.com:
A search on Forbes.com turned up these articles written by Forbes journalists and other contributors not affiliated with SAP:
What you would prefer to read?
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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