If nothing else, publishers, brands and advertisers can agree on one thing when it comes to native advertising – it’s working. That’s why, even as they argue about whether it’s misleading to consumers or not, they are scrambling to find new ways to use it wherever and whenever possible. The newest idea is to bring it to an area of most websites that has been completely ignored up to this point – the comments section.
Soon however, publishers like Rolling Stone, US Weekly and others will be the earliest adopters of a new type of native ad format, “sponsored comments,” letting them directly target specific verticals and readers in the comments section after a story.
David Denton is the vice president of products at one of the first companies to use sponsored comments, Evolve Media. “With the pressures that all publishers are under to keep up with the downward pressures on CPMs, everyone’s looking for alternative monetization,” he said recently, adding that “this presents new real estate further down the page that’s not intrusive and more consistent with how we want to present our site.”
Appearing with a disclosure that says “sponsored on Disqus,” the relatively unobtrusive ads are now being tested by the New York Times to advertise one of their stories on other websites. The new ads will feature a gray background so that, as Disqus says, readers will have a clear sign that they are advertisements.
It’s a risky venture, to say the least. Frankly, the comments section even on relatively wholesome websites has been known to be unpleasant and harsh. Not only that but publishers will have little control about the comments being left, leaving their ads to be placed among “trolls,” foul language and even worse.
David Fleck, the general manager at Disqus, doesn’t appear to be worried. When asked about the risk, he replied that “In general, the ad unit would never show next to anything like that.” The reason being, he says, is because “the ads appear above the comments section, they literally can’t be next to anything like that. There is a definitive break between it and the rest of the comments.”
The fact is that while most publishers are concentrating on advertising that’s above the fold, most readers actually spend more time in the middle and bottom of webpages. Also, the typical reader who leaves a comment is one that’s more engaged with that content. In theory, this makes them more valuable to brands and advertisers.
Disqus says that, although it’s still too early to say how readers are responding to these new ads, their early reception has been mostly positive. They wouldn’t go into any details about how they’re going to calculate splitting revenues with publishers (which will be on a viewed CPM basis), but they did say that the quality and size of the publisher will make a difference.
In the end however the success or failure of these new sponsored comments depends on how they’re tolerated by users. Disqus, as Fleck points out, is already designed to let readers vote on comments and, since unhelpful comments are usually “turned off,” the more unhelpful a comment is, the less readers will actually see it.
That still leaves the problem of comment “trolls” as there still isn’t a voting system designed that can filter them all out. It’s for this reason that Disqus already has plans to algorithmically filter out any bad discussions that might appear next to their ads “We are building out programmatic ways to scan for those things in an effort to make brands more comfortable,” said Fleck.
For this reason, at least for the time being, sponsored comments will be rolled out slowly and only with select publishers that, in Disqus’ opinion, have reasonable commenter communities.