Dell: Why We Chose Transparency and The Times

Stephanie Losee is the Managing Editor at Dell.

I’m still trying to figure out why there’s a debate about transparency when it comes to branded content. It seems obvious to me that fooling readers into clicking on an advertorial masquerading as an editorial is the very definition of a losing proposition.

And yet, here we are. When Dell chose to be the inaugural brand on The New York Times’ Paid Posts native advertising platform in January, the fact that the pages were clearly labeled as branded content prompted some to question Dell’s decision. Didn’t we realize that readers weren’t going to be taken in?

Yes, we did, and that’s one of the reasons we decided to partner with The Times. Sneaking advertorial by unsuspecting readers wasn’t our goal. Why would it be? There are only two emotions people feel when they don’t discover a post was sponsored till the end: Mild irritation at best; anger at worst.

So you see why I can’t fathom the debate, but it’s only part one of the content marketing conversation. Once we agree full transparency should be the rule for sponsored content, we have to move on to a discussion about what to publish — transparently — in the space your sponsorship has bought you.

The case for transparency

It starts with a hard truth: Readers will be inherently suspicious of sponsored content because you’ve paid for the article they’re reading. What are you going to do with that suspicion? Will you confirm it by publishing content that praises you? Or allay it by publishing pieces that are useful to audiences interested in your brand?

The latter option is the way to go — specifically, serving your audience with thought leadership written by leading freelance journalists and experts on the topics your customers care about. Let the labeling (“sponsored by Dell”) be the ad; let the content be the service you’re providing to the people you want to reach.

That’s what we did with The Times, and it was an edifying experience for us both. After riding out the initial news cycle about the wisdom of embracing native advertising as a revenue model, The Times was then accused of being too transparent. How could it have properly served its advertisers if its advertisers had no chance of tricking audiences into reading its posts?

But audiences don’t need or want to be tricked. Metrics show audiences click on and share great content, no matter who pays for or publishes it. So I think the value proposition for all three parties — publishers, brands and audiences — is for editors to commission authoritative and entertaining stories, and put them in front of the right audiences.

Don’t be afraid to explain who paid for it. And, let us remember, advertisers paid either way. They paid directly for sponsored content, and they paid indirectly for editorial work in the main publication. Then, let the best work win. Win eyeballs for the piece. Win clicks for the publication. Win respect for your brand.

The Content Strategist is our brand’s story. What’s yours? Let us help you find the answer.

Image by New York Habitat

Get better at your job right now.

Read our monthly newsletter to master content marketing. It’s made for marketers, creators, and everyone in between.

Trending stories