Flipboard Improves Its Ad Targeting Capabilities

Move Comes as Platform Sees Increased Competition From Apple News

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A representation of Flipboard's Interest Graph Targeting.
A representation of Flipboard's Interest Graph Targeting. Credit: Flipboard

Flipboard is enhancing its ad targeting, opening its own proprietary data to advertisers for the first time.

Dubbed Interest Graph Targeting, the new offering aims to help advertisers reach a more targeted group of users than previously available. Where advertisers could target broad categories such as sports or travel, they'll now be able to choose from 34,00 different keywords or topics for targeting. The data involved includes reader behavior, social data and Flipboard's Topic Engine tool, which can decipher the content of articles.

The move "signifies a next phase in Flipboard's advertising business as advertisers can now get their full-page ads, Promoted Stories or videos and Brand Magazines in front of their audience in the right context as well as in the right mindset," according to a company statement.

"Flipboard is well known for beauty and design, which is reflected in the presentation of content as well as advertising," said Mike McCue, Flipboard's co-founder and CEO. "We combine this beauty with 'brains': our deep understanding of the intricate connections between people, content and interests through our Interest Graph. The Interest Graph powers content discovery on Flipboard and now, we're opening it up to our brand partners who want to get their messages in front of their audience in the right context as well as in the right mindset."

In a blog post, the company used the example of a packaged food company wanting advertise a Promoted Story and target it to the "recipes" topic on Flipboard. That's similar to how other platforms offer targeting, but "the similarities end there," according to the post. "With our graph targeting we would also dynamically serve ads to 'Nutrition,' 'Gardening,' 'Grilling,' and 'Baking' or even 'Vegetables' and 'Breakfast.'"

"Ongoing improving of ad products is what ad sales and ad target teams do," said Brian Wieser, analyst at Pivotal. "There are many publishers start out with very rudimentary notions of targeting, with only a couple variables on the targeting" he added. Often partly for privacy reasons, "advertising's just not part of the model" initially, he said. "But advertisers want far more than a couple variables. It's not that you can't generate revenue without it, but you can overcome more hurdles with better targeting."

Flipboard says its data also allows advertisers to find user interests to advertise against that may not have been intuitively linked. For instance, with the broad topic "coffee," the Interest Graph identifies espresso as a related topic, but based on user habits and interests, it also identifies beer as a similar topic of interest, said Dave Huynh, head of ad products at Flipboard.

The move comes as Flipboard has reached 75 million monthly active users, but it also comes as the news space is seeing increased competition, particularly with Apple's news reader Apple News. Twitter and Facebook are also taking news on their platforms more seriously with Twitter's new Moments product and Facebook's Instant Articles and increased emphasis on news trends .

The Apple News app arrived with the company's most recent operating system, iOS 9, in September. It remains to be seen how successful Apple News will ultimately be, but after its announcement several observers wondered whether Apple News would be a Flipboard Killer.

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