Is content marketing really all about product placement?

Trinity Mirror has launched a website funded entirely by native advertising. I’m not sure this is a revolution in journalism; it feels more like an experiment to me.

Whilst many people are looking to native advertising as a way to monetise online news more effectively than surrounding stories with blingy banners, I think the reality is that no one is quite sure what native advertising will look like in five years’ time. The old-school advertorial is probably too blunt an instrument for consumer titles (although I think it will have a place in B2B), and Trinity Mirror’s vision seems to be closer to product placement than anything else. Sue Douglas, head of Sunday brands at Trinity Mirror, said:

“This isn’t advertorial at all; it’s about collecting and curating the stories that you want on your site, and then within a story is some kind of serendipitous news element that lends itself to a product or some other priority that you know a business you have a relationship with has and you can utilise that.

“You might be doing a story about appalling weather, and so right down at the bottom you can have a link for Hunter’s wellies, providing people with the means to buy a relevant product if they want to.”

Whilst this approach sounds nice – highly relevant content about a brand in a story that would have been written anyway, it does make me wonder how this type of advertising might be sold. If publishers are truely going to just write news stories, it will be impossible to accurately predict the advertising opportunities and potential impressions for any one brand. Will this uncertainty lead to new, innovative sales models or will the challenge of selling opportunities at short notice result in publishers telling journalists to ensure they write about topics that provide the best advertising opportunities?

Something tells me we are a long way from the optimistic future predicted by Sue Douglas…