The New York Times R&D Lab has spent the last six and a half years building what its chief calls the equivalent of "concept cars" for the media world. One of its creations was the News.me social news-reading app, which was conceived and prototyped inside the lab before being spun out to the incubator Betaworks for commercialization.
But this year the Times Co. formed a R&D Ventures group with the explicit purpose of commercializing its own ideas, creating new revenue streams for the company in the process. Now it is introducing its first product: Ricochet, which helps brands drive consumers to relevant articles accompanied by ads for the brand.
A brand using Ricochet picks out an article from a Times Co. publication, such as The New York Times or The Boston Globe, that touches on a topic that's core to the brand's business. A unique URL is then created for that article, which the brand can distribute on social networks, blogs or elsewhere. When a brand's Twitter follower, Facebook fan or anyone else who encounters the link then clicks on it, they will see the article surrounded by display ads for the brand.
"This is an entirely new concept in digital marketing that creates a whole new class of inventory: socially-driven inventory," said Michael Zimbalist, VP-research and development operations at The Times Co.
Ricochet is now a managed service, but Mr. Zimbalist said it will eventually become a self-serve platform that advertisers can use to search the Times. Co article database by topic, upload the ads they want tied to a given article, choose from a handful of page formats and set the duration of the campaign.
The product also includes the Times' Cascade tool [shown below], which visualizes the life of an article as it is shared on Twitter, allowing advertisers who use Ricochet to identify which Twitter users have the biggest impact on the sharing of a specific article.
The business-software maker SAP is the first advertiser to sign up for Ricochet. SAP this week used its social channels to share Ricochet links to Times articles focused on "big data" and data analytics. SAP, working with its agency Mindshare, has signed on to use Ricochet for three months as the company rolls out its "Run Like Never Before" campaign.
"Here we have the ability to target in a more precise manner and associate our brand with content that we know ahead of time will be relevant to our audience," said Susan Popper, SAP's senior VP-integrated marketing communications.
The Times Co. will charge advertisers for Ricochet based on the number of articles they want to tie their creative to as well as the duration.