NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For websites with high-end original content, banner ads alone don't come close to paying the bills. What will? A big, splashy brand-awareness campaign from a luxury automaker can't hurt.
Mercedes-Benz launched such a campaign today across 18 Conde Nast Digital sites, including sites that correspond to Conde Nast magazine titles such as Details and Vogue, and also on the web portals created to package Conde Nast content, such as Style.com and Epicurious.com.
Even Domino.com got in on this one; Conde will keep the doors open on the Domino website for the duration of the campaign, even though the magazine was shut down in January.
The campaign predates the latest reorganization of the glossy-magazine factory's digital assets, announced last month. But it represents just the kind of selling Conde Nast hopes to achieve from the reorg, as well as the kind of sell that gives publishers some hope that brand advertising, the lifeblood of print magazines, can also support content online.
The campaign, called "Dashboard," promotes the launch of the Mercedes GLK, a small crossover SUV that represents both a new product and a new category for Mercedes-Benz. The banner ads have an image of a speedometer on them and invite users to "access a world of helpful lifestyle content in one small package." When users roll over them, they expand to become a rich-media environment that integrates Conde Nast magazine and web content, along with branded video from Mercedes-Benz. Pointroll was the rich-media provider for the campaign.
The deal is said to be valued just under $1 million, but more important for Conde Nast than the size of the buy is what it represents: Mercedes-Benz isn't judging the campaign by transactions -- say, a booked test drive or a visit from an in-market car shopper. All the automaker wants is some evidence that readers spent time interacting with the Conde Nast content within its branded environment.
In other words, it's like a magazine ad page. Eric Jillard, Mercedes-Benz USA manager of digital marketing, said the automaker does plenty lower-end banner campaigns on automotive sites and on ad networks, which are judged by an action, or a "conversion," but this campaign is different.
"There are other types of campaigns focused on those types of actions," he said. "But for more lifestyle campaigns, it's unfair to hold them to the same kind of benchmarks."
Conde Nast's glossy-magazine empire is built on creating high-end content that acts as a vehicle for brand advertising. The advertiser hopes the connection the reader has with, say, Vogue, will also translate into an affinity for the products advertised therein. Without it, the print glossies wouldn't exist, and the web will never pay for the kind of content print can produce.
The "Dashboard" campaign is an attempt to replicate that model in an immersive way on the web. "This has been designed as an engagement tool," said Conde Nast Digital Senior VP Dee Salomon, who negotiated the deal.
There will always be more efficient websites than, say, Epicurious.com or NYTimes.com, especially for online advertisers looking to pay the lowest possible amount for a conversion. But Conde Nast's hope -- and the hope of premium publishers struggling to compete with the portals, ad networks and aggregators -- is that advertisers will start to see campaigns like this as a means to build awareness for a product or build a brand, just as do with print, outdoor and TV.