Branded content was at one time seen as a brave new frontier for newspapers looking to attract advertising dollars, and for brands trying to charm consumers with an alternative to regular ads.
But Covid-19 is hitting the weakest first, and both the New York Times and The Telegraph have put their branded content divisions — Fake Love and Spark — in the firing line, shutting them down entirely.
It turns out that people want to read news and features when they pick up a paper (or click through its website), and they are not so keen on branded content or experiences, and newspapers will need to find other ways to make up the shortfall in revenues caused by a global recession.
The New York Times has seen a surge in subscribers during the crisis, taking the total digital and print figure to more than six million, but it’s making 68 redundancies in the sales department, including closing “Fake Love,” which was there to “design and build immersive experiences with the intent to create deep meaning for each person who interacts with our work.” With a sales pitch like that, who needs Covid?
The Telegraph announced the closure of its Spark division earlier this month and will move away from branded content. Again, The Telegraph is seeing subscriptions grow, although pre-tax profits fell by 88% in 2018 and the paper is only half way towards its 1m subscriber target for 2023. The Atlantic also laid of 68 staffers, many from its Atlantic Live division.
Branded content — editorial for advertisers — has found a happier home with influencers, although that move is also fraught with problems, thanks to escalating levels of inauthenticity and endless ASA rulings about failures to disclose sponsors.