5 Branded Content Distribution Strategies To Help Justify Higher Prices!

November 21, 2017

The biggest threat to a publisher’s branded content business in 2018 isn’t other publishers; rather it’s platforms and agencies they need to be focused on. It’s possible that agencies start cut publishers out altogether and execute content marketing themselves. It has become easy for brands, agencies, and platforms to source content production from the hundreds of content agencies or tens of thousands of freelancers available on the market, and then buy efficient (cheap) distribution for the content.

Publishers expecting growth in 2018 are beginning to incorporate different branded content distribution strategies into their business model as a way to differentiate from these competitive threats. As more spend goes into publisher-driven branded content programs in 2018, greater attention will be paid to how it is distributed and promoted, which presents a new opportunity to influence pricing models and maintain premium rates.

Here is a summary of five strategies that will influence branded content pricing models in 2018:

Base Targeting

Its embarrassing that “base targeting” still has to be explicitly mentioned. Its 2017 and base targeting is table stakes and the foundation for any type of premium advertising product. It is so obvious, but unfortunately cannot be taken for granted by brands.

There are two questions that have to be answered:

1. Human? Is it from a trusted distribution source? With the amount of ad fraud, NHT (non-human-traffic) and audience quality concerns slamming the display advertising market (primarily via programmatic channels), the same question has to be asked for content.

2. Country? Is the audience in the same country that the campaign is targeting? I know, it sounds obvious. However, off-platform distribution channels, like Facebook or Outbrain, make targeting at a global or country-level as simple as checking a box.

Short-sighted publishers have realized that it is more efficient to distribute globally versus in-country (especially in smaller countries). And if a publisher isn’t using a distribution tech solution (like Polar or their ad server) for on-platform promotion, than they have no way to guarantee that the audience is in-country.

Publisher Audience

Due to the current heavy reliance on off-platform distribution, it cannot be taken for granted that publisher’s are actually delivering their audience to brands.

There are three broad categories of distribution channels:

1. On-Platform: refers to a publisher’s audience across its websites, apps, newsletters, AMP, Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News. These are all channels that a publisher controls or heavily influences. It’s also clear that the audience has an intent to engage with the publisher’s brand.

2. Off-Platform Targeted: refers to a publisher curated segment (via first-party audience data) on other platforms that require the paid reach to engage with their audience. For example, on Facebook this would involve a publisher running paid ads targeted at its Page followers and lookalike audiences. Also included would be organic social and organic search (but both are relatively small for branded content).

3. Off-Platform Untargeted: refers to a large category of untargeted audiences that do not represent a publisher’s core audience. A few examples include:

  • Paid ads on Facebook with limited to no targeting parameters.
  • Paid links on Outbrain, Taboola, Stumbleupon or native networks, none of which easily allow the use of first-party publisher data for audience targeting.

Target Demo

Brands also want the ability to target their campaigns to specific segments within a publisher’s general audience. In the chase for reach and scale, mainstream consumer publishers attract such a wide variety of audiences that brands will want to target more specific demo segments with content just like with traditional media. Reaching targeted segments in engaged content environments is also something they are willing to pay more for. Google and Facebook have already trained the buy-side community to expect a minimum level of demo targeting and that the costs increase as further refinements are added.

In its simplest form, we recommend that publishers interested in offering demo targeting make available segments based on gender and age ranges, and of course charge a premium for the option. You can use a table like the one below and ask buyers to select a minimum of 3 demo segments.

Here is a quick explanation for how to execute demo targeting for branded content distribution:

  • On-Platform: use a publisher ad server to control promotion, targeting audience segments, defined in a publisher DMP (data management platform) that is already connected to the ad server.
  • Off-Platform: use the built-in audience targeting capabilities (from platforms like Facebook) to reach the right segments.


Brands partner with premium publishers to

  • Produce high-quality content with relevant brand integrations.
  • Reach and engage with a publisher’s existing audience.

On-platform distribution refers to a publisher’s aggregate audience across its websites, apps, newsletters, AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News. These are all channels that a publisher controls or heavily influences, where it is clear the audience has an intent to engage first and foremost with the publisher’s brand.

Given some of the challenges associated with off-platform distribution, many publishers are actively shifting their strategies to better leverage owned channels and decrease reliance on Facebook for branded content promotion. This is not so easy to do; however if done well, it can create more value for the brand (as audiences are far more likely to engage with the content), and thus can be truly positioned as premium.

In 2018, we expect several publishers to guarantee a minimum % of on-platform views to branded content as a distribution strategy to increase (or protect) pricing models.

Engaged Views

Not all content views are equal and the current CPV pricing model for branded content does not account for this. Using paid distribution for branded content naturally generates more low-quality views to the content. In fact, most of the time, that content is hardly ever viewed in its entirety.

We’re expecting this to change in 2018, as buyers start to ask more questions about view quality. We have recommended that publishers start guaranteeing a minimum engagement with branded content, and then charge a premium for this. The Daily Telegraph (one of our partners) in the UK recently announced their intention to guarantee this starting January.

In Summary

In conclusion, it looks like business model for branded content will get even more complex in 2018. We believe there will be greater clarity for buyers when paying a premium to execute content campaigns with publishers (rather than doing it themselves).

Of the five strategies presented above, Base Targeting and Target Demo are easy enough for agencies and brands to do themselves without a publisher. However reaching a Publisher’s Audience, using a publisher’s On-Platform Channels and driving Engaged Views are nearly impossible for an agency or brand to do themselves (unless they use content recommendation or native ad networks to get back-door access and wholesale rates to a publisher’s audience, which of course has other implications).

Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar. Follow his leadership blog at findfocus.today. At Polar, Kunal leads a talented team transforming the media publishing industry with technology. He is passionate about leadership and finding focus in a modern era. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Medium or Twitter.



This benchmarks report presents a detailed look at global aggregate performance data, as well as specific performance across Australia, United States, and the United Kingdom.