Ads with social components built in are easy to spot these days. Facebook's Engagement Ads, Twitter's Promoted Tweets, and Federated Media's "conversational" ad network are all examples. This week brings a new entry to the field, courtesy of blogging platform Six Apart.
Six Apart has developed an ad format that uses sponsored questions to help brands engage with blog audiences. Called TypePad Conversations, the product consists of a module that publishers can embed on their pages and use to spark conversations with readers in a sponsored format. Reader responses appear on the individual sites where the module is hosted, and can also be aggregated in a hub on the advertiser's site, Facebook page, or standalone destination.
The key selling point for advertisers, according to Six Apart CEO Chris Alden, is the new ad product that lets advertisers foster real conversations on a large number of sites while also being easy to buy. Ads are sold on a CPM basis, and bloggers get paid the same revenue share they would for Six Apart's regular display ad sales.
"It's more than a standard IAB format," Alden said. "We're trying to give advertisers high engagement without being overbearing. No one's been able to do that with a large number of blogs."
San Francisco-based Six Apart's ad network reaches approximately 90 million U.S. unique users on thousands of sites, according to April data from comScore. Its mass reach approach is different from competitors like Federated Media, which reps social ad inventory on a more select list of between 150 and 200 sites and reaches approximately 35 million U.S. uniques.
Sprint is the first advertiser to embrace the format, asking questions designed to spur discussion about mobile phones and their role in our lives. Six Apart mobilized a group of influential blogs to participate in the Sprint campaign. They include JessicaGottlieb.com, BettyConfidential.com, and Geekweek.com.
Though the campaign just started, engagement seems to be happening already. Yesterday on JessicaGottlieb.com and BettyConfidential.com, two sites geared toward women and mothers, Sprint sponsored this question: "Do your kids respond better and faster when you text or call them?" Replied one reader, "My daughter loves to leave me voice messages and usually only texts me when she wants to buy something!"
But as with any ad that tries to provoke discussion, there's the chance of backfire. So it should come as no surprise that the tenor of Sprint's early TypePad Conversations is not always kind to the brand.
Take the responses to this perhaps overly-specific question from Sprint: "If you could connect up to 5 devices at a time using just your mobile phone, how would that change how and when you access the internet?"
Of the 13 responses posted since the question went live, most are perplexed or dismissive. "I would not have any desire to," said one. "I've got a Verizon MiFi, which does the same thing without the phone part," said another.
Follow Zach Rodgers on Twitter at @zachrodgers.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
March 19, 2014