Not too long ago in the publishing world, there was a clear distinction between an advertisement and a news article. But now, with the rise and success of branded content, the lines between advertising and editorial are blurry. Most of the buzz about the success of this form of advertising has gone to online campaigns, and why not? At times they have even outperformed their editorial counterparts in terms of unique visitors and active times on a web page. Branded content within print magazines and newspapers, however, has had its share of success too. Regardless of whether or not branded content is presented in digital or print form, the major key to its success is effective storytelling, and print is the ideal format for storytelling.

New York Times Shell Paid Post

Shell’s New York Times Branded Content Ad Created by the newspaper’s in-house agency, T Brand Studio

The New York Times’ first ever print branded content campaign, which they call a “Paid Post”, was published in November of last year.  It was sponsored by Shell and created by the newspaper’s own in-house custom content studio called T Brand Studio.  The advertisement was an eight-page spread, offering interesting information about urbanization and how energy plays a role in all of it. For home delivered versions, the ad was wrapped around the entire paper and in newsstand versions, around the business section. Readers could also scan the ad with their smartphones to view related videos.   T Brand Studio holds high standards in regards to what brands are allowed to advertise via Paid Posts, and believes that an advertisement can also be a great story. Michael Zimbalist, SVP of Ad Products and Research & Development at the New York Times said:

“We’ve noted for quite some time that great stories can come from anywhere, and certainly from brands. This is part of the proof point that audiences will engage with great content regardless of its provenance, provided they have a sense of where it’s coming from.”

More recently, with the relaunch of the print magazine Blackbook earlier this month, came another interesting branded content campaign sponsored by HP. In the issue, advertiser stories are presented alongside editorially-driven ones and that is just how the founder Evanly Schindler, who recently bought the magazine back from Vibe, wants it. He embraces native advertising (another term for branded content) because he claims the messages of the advertisers align with the type of original content the magazine would produce anyway. In the case of HP, the company partnered with Blackbook to promote its new desktop computer called Sprout. The result was a series called “Studies for an Art Project” where the magazine’s staff used it to design several pages in the magazine and invited guests to use it too.  Said Schindler about this promotion,

“That’s a piece we could have written on our own, so when they came and they wanted to do that type of native content partnership, that was very easy and very exciting because it pushed forward what we do and what we’re known for.”

Branded content is an engaging form of advertising that if presented with the right mix of creativity, quality and aligned messaging, can be a major hit for publishers and brands.