Why would a company pay a newspaper for advertising, when it can broadcast directly to its audience online? The question has long been perplexing newspaper companies, who are seeing their revenues drop as a consequence of brands cutting them out of the advertising process and going straight to Twitter or Facebook to reach their customers.
But instead of fighting the shift, the New York Times Company launched a new advertising initiative yesterday, which aims to benefit from the fact that brands are becoming their own publishers. Ricochet, as the Times’s product is called, hopes to generate revenue by allowing brands to select specific New York Times content that is relevant to their customers, and then to share links to a version of that content surrounded by their own advertising.
“In the traditional advertising model, brands reach audiences through content; by contrast, using Ricochet, content reaches audiences through brands," explains the vice president of research and development at the Times, Michael Zimbalist, quoted in the official press release.
Brands will pay for Ricochet links, which will be valid for a fixed period. An example of a Ricochet link purchased by the business software provider SAP is featured in the press release, where it is compared with a link to the same article as it normally appears on www.nytimes.com.
The difference between the two versions is not especially obvious: the banner advertising does not stand out on the Ricochet version any more than it does on the original. However, the system exploits the fact that brands frequently share non-commercial content via social media to pull in readers, and allows them to commercialise that content through ads. With Ricochet, social media users get interesting content via a brand, The New York Times gets wider distribution and revenue from its articles and a brand gets to target its advertising. In theory, everybody wins.
Whether the system actually works, however is a different question. The New York Times Co. is under pressure to generate more money from online advertising after announcing last week that its digital advertising revenue had actually fallen year-on-year, as paidContent reported.
At least from the advertiser end, there will be an easy way to assess performance. To see how Ricochet urls are actually reaching users, the product works in partnership with Cascade, a data visualisation tool that allows businesses to see how the links they buy are being shared.
Assuming these advertisers like what they see, the New York Times Co. has plans to expand the product. According to an article in AdAge, Ricochet will eventually become a “self-service platform” that businesses will be able to use find New York Times articles, upload their own ads and select the page layout and length of the advertising campaign at the click of a button.
If the project is a success, The New York Times will also benefit because the system allows it to monetise articles shared on social networks, which are not affected by the paper’s paywall.