The 2 Rules of Sponsored Content

Michael Brenner on Sep 11, 2013 in Content Marketing

rules of sponsored content - be goodWelcome to my 2nd day coverage of Content Marketing World. Yesterday we covered the content quantity vs. content quality debate. Today, i am participating on a panel discussing Sponsored Content.

There’s a lot of debate these days around sponsored content and the more recent term of “native advertising.”

Many like to point out that sponsored content is nothing new. Advertorials have been around for a long time. But they seem to be taking on more importance as brands “become publishers” while digital media and  social platforms are seeking new ways of generating revenue.

So ahead of the panel discussion, here are my views on the top questions related to sponsored content:

What is sponsored content?

Sponsored content is content written or under-written by the sponsor that runs on a publisher’s domain. Sponsored content should add some value to the reader. It should line up to the expectations of the audience and be relevant to the main categories of content on the publisher site. Sponsored content should be clearly labeled as content coming from the sponsor and not the publisher’s editorial team.

Is sponsored content different from Native Advertising?

I see them as different things. Native advertising is not always content marketing. For example, a native advertisement embedded into my Facebook news feed is still an ad. A promoted tweet can be “just” an ad although I am sure each of these examples would show higher click through if the content was more like content marketing (something useful, entertaining or non-promotional.)

Why are these important for brands? For publishers? For readers?

I believe sponsored content is a great way for brands to partner with publishers to create content that is helpful to the readers. It forces brands to put the needs of the audience first. It allows publishers to think about new ways of creating a revenue stream to underwrite their own editorial without having to insert interrupting ads that no one wants and fewer and fewer readers are interacting with. To me, if sponsored content is done right, everybody wins. Although I’m not so sure if advertising agencies sees this as a good thing.

The Two Rules of Sponsored Content

  1. Create Great Content: Brands need to think and act like the editorial group inside publishers by roducing engaging, interesting and quality content that helps the audience and leaves your own desire for self-promotion behind. When brands create great content that the audience wants, on any distribution platform, the brand will see an increase in reach, engagement and potentially conversion from the trust it builds. Remember, marketing is getting new customers to know, like and trust you enough to choose you over the competition. Great content is one of the best ways to do this. And sponsored content is one of the best ways to reach out to new audiences.
  2. Always Provide Full Disclosure: Sponsored content must fully disclose that the content is not editorial and is being paid for by the advertiser. While the standards and rules of exactly how to do this are still being debated, every attempt should be made to fully disclose the publisher / brand relationship.

Is sponsored content an attack on journalistic integrity?

Finally, a few words to the voices out there decrying sponsored content as the death knell for journalistic integrity. Publishers have always accepted money from advertisers. And while the editorial and sales desks were kept separate to minimize even the perception of impropriety, journalist salaries have always been supported at least in part by ads.

Now that the world increasingly expects content to be free, and advertising click-through rates have fallen to point-zero-something percent, publishers need to find new ways to generate revenue in a way that doesn’t interrupt their readers. This will allow those same publishers to pay their staff writers.

When this is done with integrity (full disclosure) and good intention (great content), I believe journalistic integrity will be preserved.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook  and Google+ or  Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 18 comments
  • Ben

    Hi Michael,
    Great post here. I fully agree that editorial content alignment needs to be quality content that helps the end user! I also like that you separated out editorial and native advertising. I just yesterday read a really good post from AdAge about how brands can’t always produce content on the scale of publisher, and they shouldn’t try to either. (

    I also recently wrote a related post about how brands can measure the impacts of these types of sponsorship’s – since the goals are different:

    Thanks for the great post (as always)

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks so much Ben! I will definitely check it out!

  • Reginald

    Hi Michael,

    Well written mate. I love the #2 point. Writing and disclosing that is a MUST for any sponsored post. I mean the etiquette should be there as well right?

    Anyway, great write and thanks for sharing this. Shared on Triberr.


    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Reginald and always appreciate the Triberr shares.

    • Erika

      Totally agree on the importance of Rule #2. No one wants to find out at the end of reading something that it was sponsored content, not objective editorial.

      • Michael Brenner

        Thanks Erika. Both rules are important but this one takes priority.

  • Alvin Anderson

    I agree! when creating a content you must be a good listener to your audience needed. Thanks for sharing this blog post.

  • Bernie Borges

    As you point out, sponsored content has been around a long time. Now that content marketing has become mainstream, I believe we are going to see more sponsored content in digital channels.

    The winning formula for sponsored content (which you covered) is:
    1) full disclosure from the content channel
    2) valuable/relevant content
    3) 3 winners: the end user, the sponsor, the channel.

    I believe we are going to see a lot more sponsored content in 2014. That’s my early prediction for next year.

    Thanks for covering this topic.

    – Bernie Borges

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Bernie, you hit on exactly my main point at the panel I was on at #CMWorld: the publishing industry needs to find a way to sustain itself. I do believe sponsored content can be good for the reader, the sponsor and the publisher. As long as we hit #1 and #2 of full disclosure and great content.

      Appreciate your support and it was great seeing you.

  • Duncan Edwards

    Important to insist on a ‘nofollow’ link when publishing advertorials for others, otherwise you risk a google slap!

    • Michael Brenner

      Good point Duncan. Brands beware of the Google slap!

  • Erinn S

    Great post-Remembering the ‘rules’ is very important. I see many posts that highly appear to be sponsored and no disclosure!

  • Great debate Michael. Thanks for sharing. I’m including this trend in my content marketing 2014 summit webcast via smart insights (brighttalk) on tuesday and will examine the Zurich/Guardian partnership which seems to me to tick all the boxes in your governance chart

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Stephen. I’m going to check that one out.

  • Gilbert Samuel

    Seems everybody is going for rule #2, that’s the same thing I’m about to say too. Thanks for sharing.

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