A Smarter Native Advertising Product

The Washington Post’s Research, Experimentation and Development (RED) team prioritized speed in 2016 and this year will focus on delivery. To create better customized user experiences, using The Post’s personalization technology. The Post’s Head of Ad Product and Technology Jarrod Dicker introduces Post Cards in a guest blog post.

For years, the digital advertising conversation has been dominated by two movements: programmatic and branded content (call it what you will). This is certainly the case here at The Washington Post where we more than doubled programmatic and branded content revenue in 2016.

Largely thanks to programmatic, ad delivery has gotten a lot smarter across the entire industry. By leveraging data and personalization, we’re able to deliver the right creative to the right user at the right time across mobile, desktop and on any platform.

Likewise, we’ve made tremendous advances with branded content, mostly in production quality as many publishers have opened their own studios dedicated to the creation of engaging content. However, when it comes to delivering branded content to users more intelligently, advances are few and far between. Yes, there is programmatic native and vendors delivering sponsored content across many different sites to reach massive audiences, but with this approach we often lose the creativity and personal connection that is branded content’s biggest advantage. The true value of branded content is in a collaborative approach to storytelling between agency, client and publisher that adds to a reader’s experience.

Today’s branded content, whether supplied by the brand or custom-created by a publisher’s studio, is more than just headlines and text. Brands are increasingly enriching their content using multimedia woven together into one cohesive narrative (examples from our BrandStudio can be see here and here). And that’s not just on the landing pages of these immersive features; the way we consume content in-feed is becoming more direct, with components of immersive features such as video, gallery or text being delivered directly to the user in both on-site and social feeds. Consequently, the click is still important but it is no longer the sole harbinger of a successful campaign.

At The Washington Post, we obsess over learning as much about our readers’ consumption habits as possible, then acting on those learning to enhance their experience. In fact, we’ve built a proprietary technology called Clavis that lets us not only learn which nuanced topics each unique reader prefers, but the format of media our readers prefer as well. These formats are broken down by long readers, “skimmers”, video & gallery viewers, and more. This 360-degree view focuses our creative efforts on what’s most important — our readers.

Today we’re making branded content smarter.

Introducing “Post Cards,” an industry-first technology that breaks down an immersive piece of branded content into its component multimedia parts, creates promotional assets for each component, and delivers that promotional asset to each unique reader in real-time based on their preferences for both topics and formats. Each Post Card allows users to consume their preferred multimedia format in-unit, then drives to the longer immersive feature.

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The way native advertising has been delivered assumes that a headline and description is the primary way consumers digest media. Yet we know that each user is different, and preferences run the gamut when it comes to where, how, and what they want to consume. And with the web getting faster than ever, clicks can be a barrier to entry for users to engage with brands through advertising, which is why Post Cards offer both in-unit consumption and click through. Post Cards is native’s attempt to deliver branded content in the same authentic way we deliver editorial by leveraging our knowledge of user preferences.

Post Cards is the latest product from The Washington Post’s RED group.

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