GE Turns to Quartz to Produce and House a Digital-Content Hub

Sponsored Content Now Bolder, Bigger, Pricier

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World in Motion.
World in Motion.

Sponsored content is getting bigger, bolder and more expensive. One case in point: General Electric's latest digital-content hub, World in Motion, which rolls out today.

World in Motion is a warehouse for GE's articles, videos, graphics and social media posts (mainly Instagram photos) from around the globe. Some content is from GE's owned websites. Other articles are from publishers that GE pays to produce content on its behalf, such as The Economist and Quartz.

It was Quartz -- the upstart business-news site from Atlantic Media -- that created World in Motion.

It's "among the largest content-driven projects" Quartz has done, according to Jay Lauf, the site's president and publisher, who said about 10 of Quartz's roughly 100 employees worked on the project.

World in Motion is all very slick and interactive, with the globe as its centerpiece and lines pointing out from various destinations. Click on one and a piece of content specific to that locale is called up. World in Motion will live on Quartz's site through at least the end of the year and will take over for one month. Large display ads on Quartz will help promote World in Motion.

Quartz handled the project, from the design to the tech, without farming any of it out, executives said. "What Quartz has done with World in Motion is demonstrative of change in the last couple of years," said Jason Hill, GE's global director of media and content strategy. "Publishing partners have built best-in-class agency capabilities in house."

Execs at GE and Quartz wouldn't say how much all of this costs, but it's safe to say the program is a pricey one -- there's not only the cost of production but also the price of media on Quartz.

The project comes as sponsored content, also known as native advertising, becomes more ambitious. The discipline is rooted in print advertorials and several years ago began cropping up on websites as one-off articles. In the last year, however, brands and their media-buying agencies are going to publishers, emboldened by larger budgets, to create large-scale interactive ads with graphics, video and text.

"We don't call something like this a campaign," said Tej Desai, managing partner, global solutions at MEC, which handles GE's media buying and planning in all international market. "We call it a content program."

Another MEC client, Netflix, has tapped Wired, The New York Times and Quartz's sibling publication The Atlantic to create and run sponsored feature stories. But GE has proven to be among the biggest believers in sponsored content. It has an extensive in-house operation and has worked with publishers as varied as BuzzFeed and The Economist to produce articles. Last year, it teamed up with Atlantic Media Strategies -- an agency within Atlantic Media -- on a website called Ideas Lab aimed at Beltway decision makers. It even created a branded segment for "The Tonight Show."

But why make all this content in the first place?

"Brand familiarity is an objective," Mr. Hill said. "We have tremendously high brand awareness but not necessarily a deep understanding of what the brand does. Reason we've got into a brand marketing space is ours is a story that requires more than an ad. Content helps them explain the technology behind the logo -- why and how GE works and its impact on the world."

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