The Washington Post Starts Selling Native Ads for Print

Meant to Be More Timely and Engaging Than Traditional Advertorials

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What's old is new again at The Washington Post. The paper, which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos agreed this month to buy, is pitching advertisers on "native" advertising to run in print.

Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The ad units on offer include one the Post calls an "agenda setter," wrapped around a portion of the front page and featuring both display advertising and copy resembling editorial content. Another execution sits among true editorial content on the fold inside the paper.

The native ads in print, which will be marked "sponsor generated content," extend the BrandConnect program that has let advertisers post edit-like stories online since March.

"I think that a big part of native is to create experiences for brands in places in the printed pages where there wasn't formerly advertising," said the Post's chief revenue officer, Kevin Gentzel, who previously helped develop Forbes' BrandVoice native ad offering.

BrandConnect advertisers so far include IBM, Lincoln, Mercedes, Audi, CTIA and Dairy Management. This week, for example, Audi ran a promotion that appeared on the Post's home page, linking to the automaker's BrandConnect blog on the Post's site. BrandConnect uses the same content management system and tools that the Post's editors and journalists use, Mr. Gentzel said.

The native print units will likely run in the late third or fourth quarter. Mr. Gentzel declined to detail prices or identify the advertisers he said plan to use BrandConnect in print. "Pricing will include a premium on top of normal print charges," he said.

Like many big-city dailies, the Post has struggled to make its digital revenues keep pace with losses on the print side. During the second quarter of this year, the Post saw print advertising revenue fall 4% year-over-year to $54.5 million, while digital revenue declined 5% to $29.5 million. (Digital revenue in the quarter included, which is not part of the deal with Mr. Bezos.)

Printed native ads will draw comparisons with the classic advertorial, which publishers have run for decades. But Mr. Gentzel said the ad units the Post is now selling will be timelier than traditional advertorials, which marketers often used to straightforwardly argue their positions on an issue that matters to them.

"Native is different from advertorials because it needs to be narrative in storytelling and engaging so it's topical, relevant and timely versus just thematically relevant," Mr. Gentzel said.

Native advertising online has drawn criticism for its deliberate resemblance to the editorial content of the sites on which it appears. "I think that some of what is being done with native advertising does confuse a little too much," New York Times Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said at a conference hosted by Wired magazine in May. The Times has so far avoided sponsored posts in the vein of BrandConnect.

Mr. Gentzel said that all of the native ad units to run in the Post's print edition, like those on its website, will be clearly marked as sponsored content.

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