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London-based Guardian News and Media is introducing a redesign of its U.S. website on Wednesday that gives marketers a broader canvas for not only banner ads but also content-marketing products. Nissan is sponsoring the rollout with a website takeover beginning Monday for its Leaf electric car. That campaign doesn't include native ads, but Guardian executives said branded content is likely coming soon to the redesigned U.S. site.
"We're trying to bring elegance back into marketing," said Carter Brokaw, executive VP-commercial at Guardian U.S. "People come to us for content and we want to create a platform where marketers can share their content."
The Guardian's move to encourage sponsored content comes after another U.K. newspaper, the Daily Mail, hired BuzzFeed's Jon Steinberg in June to serve as its CEO for North America. Mr. Steinberg immediately got to work selling native ads, which seek to mimic editorial content. Mr. Steinberg has even put Daily Mail journalists to work cranking out content for advertisers.
Both the Guardian and Daily Mail, which have run U.S. sites for the past several years, are trying to elbow their way into the American media market, which is awash in ad dollars but crowded with competition. In July, the Guardian tapped Eamonn Store as CEO of its U.S. operations, poaching him from media agency MEC, where he was president of agency development.
The way for U.K. brands like the Guardian and the Daily Mail to break through in the U.S. is to introduce a unique point of view, said Gian LaVecchia, managing partner-digital content marketing at media agency MEC.
The Daily Mail has sought to win the celebrity and entertainment space. The Guardian, meanwhile, has extended its reputation as a left-leaning media outlet with a mix of hard-hitting stories on the U.S. government's spying efforts -- it shared a Pulitzer Prize with The Washington Post this year for its coverage of the government surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden -- as well as coverage of the arts.
"Native as an ad model makes perfect sense," Mr. LaVecchia added. "It allows them to leverage their best assets, which is storytelling."
The Guardian's redesign is responsive, meaning it looks pretty on desktop as well as mobile devices. It also organizes its U.S. homepage according to zones that reflect the "user journey" instead of coverage areas like tech or business, according to Wolfgang Blau, director of digital strategy at Guardian News and Media. So top headlines are included in one zone, long-form stories in another and so on.
Brands will have the opportunity to take over one of these zones -- which span the width of the homepage -- with large banner ads or with content, according to Mr. Brokaw. "It gives us incredible agility and flexibility from not only an editorial perspective but also a commercial perspective," he said. "We haven't had that before."
The Guardian, which introduced its U.S. homepage in 2011, has attracted a large digital audience in the U.S., with unique visitors across desktop and mobile devices reaching 26.6 million in September, a 31% increase over the previous year, according to ComScore.
Although the Guardian has posted sharp operating losses, revenue has grown, particularly in digital, which comprises one-third of total sales. Last year, revenue at Guardian News Media, which includes the Guardian and its digital assets as well as the Sunday Observer newspaper, was £210.2 million, a 7% increase over the previous year.
So far, U.S. revenue is up more than 100% this year, according to Mr. Carter, who declined to elaborate.