Buys That Include Sponsored Content Now 20% of Ad Revenue at Forbes

Company Says BrandVoice Program Helping Digital Ads Surpass Print in 2013

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When Forbes rolled out AdVoice in 2010, the architects planned to blow up the traditional publishing-advertising model. Instead of offering companies just online banner ads, Forbes was giving advertisers the ability to publish their stories directly to the magazine's website.

A Forbes.com sponsored post by Oracle
A Forbes.com sponsored post by Oracle

It was a gamble that bothered some media critics, who said Forbes had just tossed a grenade at the ad/edit wall. But three years and a slight rebranding later, the same platform -- now dubbed BrandVoice -- at least appears to be helping Forbes revenue. The company said 20% of its ad revenue this year will come from buys that include Brand Voice elements. The proportion will hit 30% next year, the company said.

Accounting for the precise impact of BrandVoice remains tricky, partly because Forbes often sells it as part of larger packages that include other kinds of ads.

That 20% estimate is also below a Forbes prediction from the summer of 2012, when an executive said packages including BrandVoice would likely comprise 25% of revenue in 2013.

But the impact of the sponsored posts is clearly growing, and one reason, according to Forbes, that digital ad revenue at the company is surpassing print ad revenue this year for the first time, with 53% coming from the digital side, the company said. Digital ad revenue caught up with print ad revenue last year, when each side wound up contributing half, according to Forbes.

Digital-only publishers have moved quickly to embrace sponsored content, now usually cast as "native advertising" designed to resemble a site's regular editorial. But Forbes was among the first legacy media brands to put a major emphasis on sponsored posts.

Some have played catch-up, some by hiring the architects of BrandVoice. Kevin Gentzel, formerly chief revenue officer at Forbes, now has the same role at The Washington Post, where he introduced a similar program called BrandConnect.

Others remain cautious. Sid Holt, CEO of the American Society of Magazine Editors, and others have argued that disclosure and transparency are key to protecting readers' trust. But native advertising is predicated on the resemblance between the sponsored post and regular editorial.

Meredith Levien Kopick, who succeeded Mr. Gentzel at Forbes, joined The New York Times in August. It's widely suspected that she will introduce some form of sponsored content there, but the newsroom can be expected to resist if it strikes them as crossing traditional lines.

Sponsored posts on Forbes.com are marked "ForbesBrandVoice" and appear below the text "Connecting marketers to the Forbes audience" and a "What is this?" link to learn more.

Publishers can expect the trend toward sponsored content to continue, according to Forbes Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin. "We're in the first inning," he told Ad Age in July.