Brand-on-Brand Advertising

The same week it was reported that fans of the CW’s hit series “Gossip Girl” are more inclined to watch their favorite show online than on TV, the Online Publishers Association (OPA) published a report bolstering the argument for online brand advertising — on branded content sites.

Common sense, really. In a bid to monetize the televised version of the series, the CW yanked the streaming episodes of the series from its Web site. Result? Mass migration to YouTube and torrent servers (define). The CW caved and put the show back on its own site.

Those online ad dollars may not approach the revenues coming in from TV buyers, but they’re better than nothing. And nothing, in this case, isn’t only fiscal. It’s a traffic issue as well.

An ambitious study (PDF download) was conducted in tandem with Dynamic Logic’s MarketNorms, involving four million respondents, and 2,000 online ad campaigns over a three-year period. The OPA’s message? Environment matters. Particularly when it comes to boosting brand favorability and purchase intent.

“In nearly every category measured, ad effectiveness scores on branded content sites were numerically higher than on the Web in general, on portals or on ad networks. Whether it’s the trust they engender or the audiences they attract, branded content sites deliver better advertising results,” said Pam Horan, OPA’s president.

Portals and remnant networks work fine for direct marketing efforts, the study finds. But brands need to align with brands. That, they claim, could be key in helping to narrow the revenue gap between traditional and online media.

This environmental concept is hardly new. In fact, it’s basic common sense in any channel. A full-page ad in “The New York Times” costs more than a pitch in the local Pennysaver for a reason, after all.

Common sense also dictates reality-checking the relative merits of creative executions factor into the findings. A cosmetics firm investing in a CondèNet buy is far more likely likely to craft a creative execution slightly more sophisticated than the “better than Botox” execution delivered regularly with Yahoo Mail. Ads for financial institutions on Forbes.com are unlikely to feature line-dancing cowboys. Effectively, that’s the difference (at least in terms of the creative) between brand and direct advertising.

Finally, branded sites are more inclined to work hand-in-glove with brand advertisers to create unique placements, sponsorships, and positioning than are ad networks. We’re talking boutique here, not remnant inventory.

Nevertheless, the study contains some interesting findings, particularly at a point in time when brand advertisers have plenty of ways to deliver messaging, ranging from rolling their own media to creating brand and product channels on social media sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube.

That said, some of the study’s highlights include:

  • Branded content site sponsorships were found to be 42 percent more effective than MarketNorms’ overall average, and 36 percent more effective than on portals.

  • 18- to 34-year-olds are more responsive to ads on branded content sites. They’re 33 percent more likely to form positive opinions about advertised brands than they are on portals.
  • CPG ads on branded content sites get a 26 percent lift in purchase intent over MarketNorms’ average.
  • Video ads on branded content sites provided an 82 percent brand awareness boost over MarketNorms’ online video advertising averages and a 67 percent brand favorability lift. Similarly, rich media ads scored 28 percent higher in terms of brand awareness improvement.

Impressive indeed. But while the OPA’s study is no doubt keyed to attract coveted brand advertisers to its members’ sites, the real message in the finding may not be to advertisers at all, but rather to those calling the shots at the branded content sites themselves.

That’s where this loops back to “Gossip Girl.” It’s time media companies (and marketers, for that matter) realize that if they own Web sites, they own branded content sites. Whether or not they support advertising.

And they should be treated as such. You don’t discontinue a show (or a column or a feature) on a media property (as The CW did) because it’s too popular. Sheesh. How dumb can you get.

You monetize it. You create opportunities for advertisers that benefit both your brands and boost both your bottom lines.

The CW’s now-revoked decision to cut off access to “Gossip Girl” puts me in mind of all those people who rush out to buy lottery tickets when the jackpot hits a stratospheric sum.

Hey, I’d be happy to win a substantial sum — even if TV marches off with the lion’s share.

What’s your favorite marketing tool or service? Which one made your campaign a success? We want to know! Nominate your choice in the 2008 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards. Nominations are open until August 14. Nominate now!

Meet Rebecca at SES San Jose, August 18-22 at San Jose Convention Center.

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