Sponsored Reviews Form Basis for Earned Ad Platform

When consumers set out to buy a laptop, smartphone or flat-screen TV, chances are they hit the Web to see what experts have to say about the products. Yet advertisers are not making full use of this information, according to San Francisco-based NetShelter Technology Media, a company that works with 4,500 technology blogs to monetize their sites.  NetShelter is aiming to mine the untapped advertising potential in these expert reviews with the launch today of inPowered, or what it calls an earned advertising platform. 

The idea of the earned ad platform is to let advertisers more easily locate reviews from independent experts and amplify them over social media networks.  Much like the sponsored stories seen on Facebook, it lets them position expert reviews as sponsored articles on strategically-placed websites.  The companies can then monitor whether consumers, who may not even realize the articles are sponsored, are tempted to click on the articles and share them with others.  

“Brands who launch a product get coverage on blogs for a few hours on the front page, but it’s then forgotten and not a lot of people read it. We saw a huge opportunity in combining that credibility from these reviews with the ability to influence readers in a way that approaches the scale of paid advertising,” said Peyman Nilforoush, CEO and co-founder of NetShelter.

The advertiser pays on a click-through basis for the sponsored content, and if users share on twitter or other platforms, the amount paid by the advertiser is higher.  After they locate the content, brands can click to create an earned ad campaign and then choose where to place it.  They can also track and measure how the campaign is going. “The company can also set a goal of how many more people they would like to reach than they are currently doing, for example,” said Pirouz Nilforoush, president and co-founder of the company (and brother of Peyman), who focuses on the analytics.

NetShelter has been quietly trialing its earned ad platform for the past 11 months, drawing companies such as Samsung, which has tested the product to amplify reviews of its Internet-enabled Smart TV, or Canadian telecommunications carrier Telus.  Samsung has used it to cull the top 10 stories on a specific topic, such as Smart TV’s deal with Spotify, and then amplify that to a wider network. “The measurement functionality enables us to devise a strategy for communicating the right message that resonates with consumers,” Samsung said in a statement. Officials from the company could not be reached for further comment on the campaign.

Samsung could see over a chosen period of time, how many people were influenced by the sponsored reviews, who actually clicked through to the original web site, the number of page views and the number of influencers who shared the content. 

NetShelter decided after the initial trial of the platform to incorporate inPowered as a separate company when they saw the traction their new product was gaining, the brothers said. NetShelter remains a subsidiary of inPowered.  Companies can manage the platform themselves and it will be available for all brands and categories, not just technology companies and the technology blogs in the NetShelter network.

Nilforoush said the company decided to launch the platform based on the results of its own 2011 survey of 3,000 tech buyers, in which it asked participants which type of content influenced them most in their brand purchases. Some 60 percent of them said they were influenced by expert content, compared to only 6 percent who said that advertising was their largest influence. “We said, wow, that’s not how media dollars are being spent now.” 

An assessment conducted on inPowered’s behalf by market researchers Marketing Evolution also compared the impact on users who were showed the sponsored articles to a control group that wasn’t shown such articles. The report concluded that those respondents exposed to the article page were 68 percent more likely to share information, and 52 percent more likely to influence others positively about the brand than the control group. 

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