Brands See Branded Content As The New Advertorial

September 20, 2018

Even though content is a priority for most brands, publisher-led branded content has become a “nice-to-have” for brands and is definitely not a “must-have”.

At the recent Digiday content summit last month in Vail, I was surprised to see 100+ reputable brands in the room for 3 days, about 20 of us non-brand people and 0 publishers. My heart sank on behalf of the publisher industry, completely missing a golden opportunity to learn from and hear how brands actually think about content.

This was the result of a live poll from the entire audience on how they think of publishers versus other channels for content. The reality is that most publishers think of branded content distribution in a similar way (60% off-site and 40% on-site). So why would brands think of it any differently?

Here are some of the trends that publishers need to be aware of:

1. Fatigue

“Content marketing has grown up. As the age of “sponsored posts” comes to a close and platforms like Facebook continue to make it harder for brands to reach audiences, brands are facing a new host of challenges when it comes to producing and disseminating their content. This was the opening statement on Digiday’s Content Marketing Summit website.

There is general fatigue in the market around branded content, as it is becoming the new advertorial (which no one is getting rich off of anymore). There has also been a lot of bad branded content, be it the creative, distribution or measurement, that has led to the perception that branded content is not a home run move for a rising marketer looking to impress their boss.

2. In-House

Brands are not satisfied with the state of digital advertising today and are quickly losing trust in the ecosystem. There is a move to bring many marketing and advertising capabilities in-house, or at least strengthen their understanding of what’s happening. As digital approaches 50% of all advertising spend, it’s natural to expect that there will be more attention and rigour placed on the investment.

The ecosystem of content providers, distribution solutions and measurement tools available now to brands to help them create their own content and distribute it themselves is growing fast. And while they may not always get the results they are promised, they are investing, experimenting and learning by allocating budgets to in-house initiatives (and doing less with publishers).

3. ROI

Few brands are growing their marketing teams as CMOs are coming under increasing pressure from CFOs and CEOs to justify the ROI on their advertising spend. And branded content today is difficult to measure ROI on.

Branded content can be an effective tool to influence awareness, perception and consideration as part of a customer journey however it is difficult to prove in a digital media ecosystem anchored on last-click-attribution models. Unless publishers can prove that “it works” (not that they delivered audience), branded content will remain a nice-to-have solution for brands. Like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae, it looks good and that’s about it.

[DOWNLOAD WHITEPAPER] The Future Of Branded Content

I invite you to join me in this conversation about the future of branded content,

Kunal Gupta

Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar, a technology platform provider whose mission is to enable a business model for the Trusted Web. Polar’s partners include major global publishers and the business has offices in Toronto, New York, London and Sydney.

Kunal is passionate about finding calm and focus in a modern era. Kunal is on the board for CAMH, Canada’s leading mental health hospital and research organization. He writes regularly on the topics of leadership, mindfulness and technology culture on his blog at

You can connect with him on LinkedIn.



Insights about the future of branded content, with a warning about the current reality, as well as a variety of tactics and strategies for a different future for branded content.