Advertising Digital Publishing
3 mins read

The branded content revival

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

For the last few months since The Great Upheaval, branded content initiatives have been pretty much non-existent.

That is until they started coming back.

The slow revival

The health of any revenue stream can easily be measured by the amount of money publishers spend on it. Let’s examine branded content spending for the past 3 months: 

branded content spend on Facebook Feb 2020 - June 2020

Branded content spend, in normal times, tends to peak at the end of the month, as publishers look to fulfill their reach obligations. Looking at February, that spike happened predictably. 

Like every other Facebook campaign type, there was a drop in spending in the middle of March as shelter in place orders started to take effect. However, we did see a small spike at the end of March, most likely due to those same fulfillment obligations. That said, the spike was much lower. 

From there, April spend was down to virtually zero.

In May, however, we started to see things turn around. Video, for example, has experienced a steady rise in CPMs , a good indication of brands regaining confidence.

Though the current situation has caused some brands to delay or pause their campaigns by a week or two, the increase remains steady, with more brands coming back online consistently. 

Brands are slowly starting to re-invest their advertising dollars, and branded content has seen a steady upward trend. We fully expect this to continue. 

Timing is everything

We’ve been seeing another interesting shift for branded content campaigns this year. Historically, Q2 and Q4 are usually the biggest when it comes to spend. Brands plan in Q1, execute in Q2, plan in Q3, and execute in Q4. 

This year, brands went dark in Q2 to reassess and understand the new reality.  As this was happening, we started getting requests for estimates and planning Q4. This started in April. Usually, Q4 planning doesn’t start until months later in the year. This tells me two things: 

  1. Brands are delaying budgets, but not forgoing them. 
  2. There is clearly a growing demand from brands.

There are, on the whole, a small percentage of publishers fully utilizing their potential when it comes to branded content. Seeing that there’s safety and stability in revenue stream diversification, this seems to me like there is a clear opportunity for publishers to double down on their branded content sales efforts and increase that revenue stream. 

A tonal shift

So brands are coming back. But when it comes to their content, it’s definitely not business as usual

Most of the new campaigns coming in are more subdued, socially conscious, and somber in their tone. In the past, travel-focused campaigns were very prevalent, promoting everything from destination weddings to off-roading adventures. In our new normal, those have gone by the wayside. Travel content is now at a minimum and is mostly about virtually exploring destinations rather than traveling to them.  

Overall, there’s an emphasis on sustainability, social responsibility, and useful how-to content. It’s also interesting to note that COVID-19 is not being addressed directly. There are some brands that are tackling it in a roundabout way, covering virtual education, rebuilding small businesses, investment stability, and family. Financial planning content is definitely having a moment.

Pacing is key

Let’s talk brass tacks. We’re still seeing publishers making a common mistake in their branded content campaigns: using paid distribution as a last-minute stop-gap to fulfill their traffic obligations.

That practice, especially in this uncertain environment, can end up being costly. If you’re thinking about utilizing paid content distribution to fortify your branded content initiatives, the best thing you can do is start early. 

If you start your paid campaigns early, you can pace your spending according to your organic traffic, which gives you time to optimize your campaigns fully. This approach gives you higher quality results at a far more efficient cost. 

Inbar Yagur