Marketing Services: Branded Content in the Age of Ad Aversion
In the “Special Coverage” section three-fourths of the way down TheOnion.com sits a set of articles sponsored by Explore Minnesota.
Click the irreverent headline “All The Lame Recommendations We Got For What To Do In Seattle In 2016,” and you’ll be shown a slideshow of Washington State tourist spots with snarky captions complaining about Seattle as a travel destination.
The articles, created by Onion Labs, are funny enough on their own. Most are only tangentially related to the advertiser, whose branding and banner ads appear multiple times on each article. It’s the type of content readers expect when they go to read The Onion. Minnesota is never mentioned, but the state’s sponsorship of the article actually makes the joke funnier.
The Onion, which launched in 1988 as a weekly newspaper, reports an average of 30 million monthly unique visitors, most of whom come in search of satirical coverage of current events. It’s a compelling but difficult audience for advertisers to reach on their own: critical of media and drawn to a voice that’s in on the joke.
But ad fatigue goes beyond The Onion. Recent studies have found that the majority of digital natives have contempt for conventional advertising. A May 2016 Harris Poll conducted for Lithium found that 74 percent of 16 to 39 year olds dislike targeted social media ads, and 56 percent of this group reportedly cut back or cut out social media use in response to advertisements.