Do Brand Publications Need Ads?

As more and more brands are becoming full-fledged publishers, some are starting to ask a common publishing question, “Should we have ads?”

For an increasing number of brand publishers, the answer to this question is yes. But why?

There are three primary reasons. First, brands can use ads to promote their own products and content–this one is a no-brainer. Second, it can provide an extra source of revenue. And third, ads can give a publication that “real magazine feel”–especially in print.

Promoting Your Brand and Boosting Your Budget

Most commonly, brands incorporate ads for their own products, sister brands, and content. General Mills owns dozens of CPG brands, and so, they created Platefull, a digital ad network that distributes ads for everything from Progresso to Old El Paso. These ads are served up on General Mills’ platforms like and, in addition to high-traffic food blogs outside the General Mills family.

“If ads surround that content, and bring attention to other great solutions for the user, why not?”

Roughly 30% of Platefull’s ads are for General Mills brands, while the remnant inventory is sold to outside advertisers. According to Jeff Nowak, Founder & Chief Content Officer at Rocket Man Digital and former Editorial Director & Editor-in-Chief at General Mills, Platefull costs General Mills very little to operate, and serves as a legitimate, though not crucial, revenue generator.

“Something has to pay for investment into content,” said Nowak. “If ads surround that content, and bring attention to other great solutions for the user, why not?”

The amount of revenue that ads generate depends on the brand and the scope of their brand publishing efforts. Most brands should contemplate the benefits and costs.

“I wouldn’t call it necessarily a ‘savvy’ revenue stream. It’s a real one, but usually very small, because it’s hard for a sales team to attach premium value to a sponsor product, and whatever revenue you do produce is often split between the sponsor and whoever’s doing the selling,” said Keith Blanchard, former Chief Content Officer at Thrillist and the former Editor-in-Chief at Maxim Magazine.

In its digital version, The Red Bulletin serves ads from companies like blu eCigs and Hyundai that are relevant to their target 18-35 year-old male demographic. These ads are mixed in with ads from other Red Bull projects, such as Red Bull Media House.

The Red Bulletin may be also using these ads as an additional source of revenue, even if that just means offsetting printing and production costs, said Amanda Maksymiw, a Content Marketing Manager at Lattice Engines.

The Real Feel

Ads can also add a sense of authenticity to a publication. They “make the magazine feel more ‘real’ to consumers, so it has value beyond the revenue,” said Blanchard.

For instance, Endless Vacation, one of the most circulated travel magazines, is a title from RCI/Wyndam’s timeshare division that includes ads from resorts and hotels and other premium brands like American Express. This helps give it that “real magazine” feel. Similarly, a 100-page print issue of The Red Bulletin contains roughly ten ads. That’s a low number for a traditional publisher, but likely a good guideline for brand publishers.

Potential Pitfalls

“The customer is in control, not the marketer.”

Incorporating ads into brand publishing can definitely have benefits, but you also don’t want to serve ads that will hurt your brand and provide negative value to the reader.

That means not only serving ads that align with your target audience, but also consistently measuring the success of those ads to ensure that they’re not deteriorating the user experience. The best way to make sure your ads align is to buy them directly from advertisers instead of via ad exchanges, where off-brand ads can easily sneak onto your page.

“[B]e contextually relevant, be subtle and be respectful,” advised Rob Yoegel, the Content Marketing Director at Monetate. “The customer is in control, not the marketer.”

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