Why Advertising Doesn’t Have to Suck: Dynamic Content & Rewards

We don’t need to regurgitate all the stats around plummeting click-through rates on display ads and banner ads. Everyone in the advertising industry is able to cite some anecdote about the decline of this ad format and the need for more engaging and emotional ads that tell a story. Nevertheless, we still see agency after agency, ad tech firm after ad tech firm, come out with a new way to algorithmically buy and sell ads through open and closed exchanges. Why does “programmatic” advertising continue to increase despite the epithet that this type of advertising is not effective?

Advertising Week NYC and the Rise of Robots

At last week’s Advertising Week in NYC, programmatic advertising was the soup de jour topic for many of the seminars. Although it appears that programmatic advertising–automating the buying and selling process of ads to create in efficient market–is on the rise, some claim that programmatic is not used widely in practice.

Ironically, there were also some seminars at Advertising Week about the rising problem of fraudulent traffic and clicks driven by–drumroll please–bots. As ads are bought and sold and an efficient market is supposedly being formed, the bad actors out there are also developing new ways to get computers or “bots” to register clicks, impressions, and other actions to mimic human interaction on ads. Are we simply using computers against each other to buy and sell ads that no one ever sees?


Are ads meant to be bought and sold by computers?

Ads Can Be Creative Too

In this industry, we treat the word “ad” like it’s a commodity, and for a majority of online marketers, this definition is not too far from the truth. To the average person, the word “ad” probably carries the connotation that someone is trying to sell me something; something that I probably don’t need and will probably not be as awesome as I expect it to be. We are starting to see more online ads touting the values and benefits of a product which definitely help improves the images conjured up when the average person thinks of the word “ad.”

This is why we believe that native advertising is the future of online advertising.

Our generation of always-on digital millennials have have accepted that sponsors and brands are behind much of the content and media we consume. We don’t care that it’s sponsored, since it’s cool and useful stuff we would watch and read regardless. Much like everyone knows TV shows are supported by 30 and 60-second spots, sponsored videos and blog posts are simply a part of our culture now.

Sponsored stories gives a brand the ability to tell the “why” of your brand, and allows a writer to create something unique and emotional that can informational to the reader of the story. Again, we know XYZ brand is behind the story, it clearly says it’s sponsored by them. Now tell me a story that makes me think about ways to improve my career, the next app that will help me be productive, or best foods I need to eat at 3AM after a night out. We believe these stories can never be bought and sold on an exchange, since someone that knows how to create will have to write the story.

Dynamic Content and Rewards in Stories

Building off of sponsored stories, we recently developed a brand new way for brands and companies to reward their most engaged readers. It’s a short way of saying:

Hey, thanks for reading this story that we sponsored. We know you were probably browsing Facebook and came across this link, and somehow our headline caught your attention and you clicked out to open this story in your mobile browser. Pain in the ass, we know. So just for getting through this entire story, here’s a little reward to say “thanks”.

To give you an example of what this dynamic content looks like, here is a mockup of what a special message would look like to a reader on PassportChop, one of our favorite travel blogs:


It’s hard to see, but this text reads:

The flight from Seattle to Las Vegas is right around 2.5 hours. Las Vegas is also in the same time zone so you don’t have to worry about getting jetlag!

For reading this story, the Venetian would like to reward you with some free casino credits and a discount on their suites. You can redeem this reward for a future stay, simply enter your e-mail and you’ll automatically get sent instructions. Your e-mail will not be given to the Venetian, so no spam, scout’s honor.

The potential sponsor for this custom text is the Venetian Hotel, and they are able to customize the message based on the location of the reader of the story as well as the time of day the reader is reading the story. If the reader lives on the east coast, the flight time would change on the fly as well as the message. The sky is really the limit on how the message will appear to the reader, but the overarching theme is that this is not just another “ad” unit, but a custom message from the brand to the reader.

The biggest incentive for the reader is that the brand is able to provide a simple reward just for reading the story. In this case, a discount on suites could be the reward, or credits at the casino. Think about it from your own perspective, wouldn’t it be awesome to get a surprise reward just for finishing a story that you would have read either way? Who doesn’t love free stuff?


We know pop-ups suck, so this is still just an experimental idea, but a box would show up perhaps when you hover over the “enter your e-mail” text that allows the reader of the story to enter in their e-mail to redeem the reward. The e-mail would never be shared with the brand or company sponsoring the post and reward, so that the reader knows that this is not just another way for the blog or brand to spam them with additional information.

Surprise and Delight

We think the simple idea of rewarding a reader with a gift is unique and gives brands a way to connect with the reader in a different way beyond the story itself. Not every story would include this custom message, since we would be able to turn the message on or off depending on where the reader lives and/or what time they are reading the story. This means there is no way to “game” this system, so to speak.

Surprise and delight readers with something they have never seen before. If you are a travel destination or brand, we would love to partner with you on this vision of giving readers something special while potentially helping you get new visitors. Let us know what you think in the comments or simply contact us!