Shelby Catalano
Shelby Catalano 23 July 2015
Categories Advertising, Content

How To Create Sponsored Content That Works

Are you a business wondering about the newfound splendor that is sponsored content?

Are you a business wondering about the newfound splendor that is sponsored content?

Sponsored content is the internet’s resident chameleon-ninja; its name changes, and so, too, do its slights and objectives between companies. Whether it’s native advertising, social content, customized advertising, or sponsor content, each term (described in great detail here, from The Content Strategist) effectively drives the business’s ethos and how the content is executed and presented.

Still not sure what I’m talking about? Sponsored content is basically paid content where businesses call upon publishers (i.e. HuffPo, Buzzfeed, The NY Times, and so on) to generate inspiring content that is favorable to their brand. Oftentimes, according to API, sponsored content is “not explicitly promotional,” and is designed “as a way of favorably influencing the perception of the sponsor brand.” Depending on the process, some publishers have full control of what content is generated, whereas other arrangements require collaboration from both parties. There is no one-size-fits-all package for sponsored content.

This sounds easy, but don’t be fooled – there is a finesse to blending your brand with these websites. There is a fine line between advertising and deception, in which crossing so leaves you at the mercy of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Long story short: you don’t want to mess with them.

The realm of sponsored content is still a relatively new and experimental industry, because tracking the metrics and results can be difficult to measure and quantify. And for all you inbounders out there, you know without metrics, it’s nearly impossible to determine the level of success of your campaign and/or methodology (especially when this content isn’t necessarily designed to sell, and is higher top-of-the-funnel material as a branding mechanism).

Despite these obstacles, sponsored content has shown widespread success. Let’s explore some well-established publishers who have leveraged brand content that works and speaks to their audience.


Buzzfeed is the social sharing hotspot of the 21st century and is a flagship example for illustrating the success of sponsored content, or in their terms, “social content.” Almost everywhere I turned to for research mentioned this article about Captain Morgan.

Here are some of the thumbs-up things Buzzfeed accomplished through this article:

  • Appealed to their audience’s expectations by making Buzzfeed’s “listicle” format
  • Appealed to the nature of their website and original content, which is based on social shares
  • There is a clear link from the brand to the content
  • Nothing is explicitly being sold

You can see how this is different from other advertising methods where the brand is slapped on everything and it’s typically very abrasive in its approach for attention-grabbing. This article is a great example of successful sponsored content because it’s very entertaining while giving a subtle nod to the Captain at the beginning of the article by linking to their YouTube page and listing them as a brand publisher, and nowhere else.

The New York Times

In my quest to become savvier about sponsored content, I researched a multitude of websites that feature native content and other publisher posts. I was surprised to find The New York Times as one that has what they call “paid posts.” You may be saying, “Well duh Shelby, of course they would have sponsorships,” but hear me out: until you’re made aware of sponsored content, if it’s done right, you don’t even explicitly notice or take heed to it. Your eyes are strategically drawn away from the brand name, and instead to the content (with the logos subliminally staring at you in the background as a means of linkage).

Take this well-done paid post about Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” This sponsored content soars for the following reasons:

  • The large image diverts your eyes away from the logos and even the website (it also looks like the inmates are moving as you scroll—did anybody else notice that?)
  • The URL is a redirect from their main website— “,” another subtle way of letting you know
  • The blend of videos, statistics and content, as well as additional resources abides by the FTC’s rules of informing you about the consumption of material
  • The CTA at the bottom links all of the content to the subject matter

While this is vastly different from Buzzfeed, its execution appeals to its viewers and audience appropriately and is easy to digest and compartmentalize. It’s a balanced blend of entertaining and informative, which is something that constitutes great sponsored content.

Key Takeaway & Statistics

Sponsored content is all about making a positive association from the content to your brand. If done right, channeling articles through publishers can make your content relatable and fun and will heighten your brand awareness. However, Copyblogger’s 2014 State of Native Advertising Report shows that 51% of respondents said they were skeptical about native advertising.

As stated earlier, it’s easy for sponsored content/native advertising to seem like you are misleading people. This rings especially true when credible sources such as The New York Times has paid posts; a WordStream article effectively illustrates this:


“…if The New York Times publishes a ‘story’ by Dell in exchange for money, can the Times objectively report on matters relating to Dell, or has every mention of the company been paid for? This is the dilemma facing publishers today.”

The perfect formula has yet to be concocted and widely adopted. What will you do, and what do you think of sponsored content? Is it a tool to orchestrate deception, or do you think it is a hip new way for companies to bring a more personalized brand awareness past their products?

Original Article


Find out more on the future of Content Marketing at our DLUK - Trends briefing on the 24th September 2015


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