A very modern advertising deal: Huffpo’s O2-sponsored content.

We’ve come a long way from Don Draper and the closed shops of pre-internet advertising. Increasingly, as advertising becomes more digital, it also becomes more collaborative and content-driven.

Today AOL UK announces a partnership between Huffington Post and mobile network O2 that ticks all these boxes.

The campaign, to back O2’s TU Go app (with which you can message and call other O2 users without a cellular signal), was devised by AOL’s in-house creative team, Engage and brokered by Newcast, one of ZenithOptimedia’s specialist divisions.

This means O2 now sponsors a new Huffpo channel, Connectivity, and gets to plaster its ads down the right-hand sidebar, which via AOL’s Devil display format allow users to downoad the app. And as part of the deal there are three specially-made films featuring TV presenters Matt Edmondson and Zoe Salmon carrying out wacky challenges

Huffington Post / O2 sponsored video Tu Go app


From static box to long-term content partnership

As an example of “native” advertising, this is a good example:

  • The brand’s messages appear in the “normal” stream of content, which publishers used to reserve for purely non-commercial editorial.
  • The centrepiece videos are created by Engage, AOL’s in-house creative team, but the site also acts as a platform for all O2’s other video content they’ve created for the campaign (see here). The high quality of O2’s own videos says much about the marketing capabilities of brands these days.
  • This is branding and sponsorship that’s not focusing on rectangluar ads across an entire site – it’s about creating the sponsored media and also the context for it to flourish and find an audience.
  • There was no natural space for this sponsored content to go, so Huffpo created it. These partnerships can’t be restricted by the inventory that’s available.

This is Jimmy Maymann, CEO of AOL, telling us earlier this year what the big idea is behind native ad deals like this:

“We don’t see traditional MPUs as where the future is. You obviously need to work out how to do advertorial,” he says. “Over the last 12 months it’s gone from testing things out to big programmes with brands like Johnson & Johnson and IBM.

“They are getting in there and spending significant money on keeping these programmes alive. Not just for campaign processes, it’s not just a one-off, but about creating brands as publishers.”

Add to this anti-banner ad rhetoric the thoughts of Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed, who told us

“Banner ads have been around 18 years, and we have debated the value of a banner ad for 18 years.  We made a decision early on to not accept them. It would have been a lot easier as all the advertisers do it – it’s efficient, it’s easy to buy.

“We don’t think banner ads work, and more importantly they are being ignored. And if you look at the stats for banner ads on mobile, 40-50 percent of clicks on mobile banner ads are mistakes.”

This is an irrestible trend right now. Advertorial is nothing new – but the collaborative, multi-channel relationship between publishers and brands is. When the focus changes from “how can we sell more ads?” to “how can we help clients reach their goals?” then we get a step closer to reducing reliance on the low value CPM model that drives that creation of so much low quality content these days.