Advertisers Won’t Mourn Loss of Consumerist

The loss of a popular media outlet with a young, well-educated readership would normally be a source of disappointment for Web advertisers. But expect no eulogies for Gawker Media’s, which was sold last week to Consumers Union.

The nonprofit Consumers Union announced immediately after the sale that Consumerist would no longer sell advertising space — same as its flagship publication, Consumer Reports — in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest with the companies it covers. But according to a sales executive with Gawker Media, selling advertising for the consumer watchdog site was never exactly easy.

“Consumerist was a unique title in our stable of properties,” Erin Pettigrew, manager of sales, marketing and operations for Gawker Media, said in an e-mail message. She said that although Consumerist attracted a “highly marketable audience,” “the opportunity it offered to readers was much greater than the value it offered to advertisers.”

“That’s why it makes infinitely more sense to hand it over to the Consumers Union team where its editorial value can be fully realized without concern for monetization,” Pettigrew said.

Selling ads for Consumerist was a challenge because the tone of the site was so fiercely critical of corporate interests — sometimes profanely so. Typical posts include headlines such as “Don’t Even Think of Ordering a Pizza Stone from Amazon” and “Comcast Bills Man for Self-Immolating Cable Box of Doom.”

“Positioning advertisers in a brand-critical environment to reach [Consumerist’s] audience was a challenge,” Pettigrew said.

“There were a few ingenious opportunities — like a brand owning display space around critiques of its competitor — but the everyday advertising goal of creating awareness around a product/brand was not the obvious value proposition for a media buyer looking at Consumerist,” she said.

The sale of the site comes as Gawker founder and president Nick Denton seeks to winnow the size of his blogging empire from 15 down to about nine, shedding those that lag in terms of traffic or ad revenue. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, though reports place it in the mid-sex figures; Consumerist averaged just under two million unique visitors a month, according to Quantcast.

Sites already unloaded by Gawker include Wonkette, Gridskipper and Idolator, and celebrity-oriented site Defamer is rumored to be for sale as well. Denton still owns sites such as Fleshbot, Deadspin, Jezebel and Gawker’s title site.

Consumers Union has promised not to interfere with Consumerist’s editorial mission, and the site’s tone has been seemingly unaffected since the sale. The company also said there would be advertising on the site for other Consumers Union properties.

Consumers Union makes most of its revenue from subscription sales, though it is unclear how Consumerist will now generate revenue — or if it will even be expected to.

Pettigrew said ad sales for Consumerist were hampered not just by its tone, but by its unique position within the Gawker portfolio.

“We sell advertising both on individual titles and across groups of Gawker Media titles — primarily an entertainment or ‘chic’ collection and a technology or ‘geek’ bucket,” she wrote. “Consumerist wasn’t a natural fit in either group, but more importantly its individual sales opportunities were fewer.”

Interestingly, Pettigrew said that despite the anti-corporate tone of the site, Consumerist had never lost an advertiser due to objections over content, and that Gawker has never made attempts to shield advertisers from “negative editorial critique.”

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