Magazine article Marketing

Digital Branded Content: Advertisers Dip Toe into Virtual World

Magazine article Marketing

Digital Branded Content: Advertisers Dip Toe into Virtual World

Article excerpt

Social networks and virtual worlds provide a route to audiences drifting away from traditional media, but companies must ensure that their presence is actually welcome. Ben Carter reports.

MySpace has been described as many things during its meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the media sector, from 'the future of advertising' to 'all porn, spam and music'. Whatever your viewpoint, it is hard to ignore the impact the site is having on the media landscape for both consumers and advertisers - or its transition from being run by a handful of unknowns to being owned by the world's best-known media mogul.

MySpace's 60m-plus global users are a key reason why Rupert Murdoch parted with more than dollars 580m (pounds 300m) last year to take control of what he has called the future of media - after once dismissing the internet as a fad. Key to Murdoch's vision for MySpace was to establish it as a mass-market advertising platform giving brands the opportunity not only to advertise, but also interact with the website's users, building closer relationships with them.

While it is still early days for MySpace under News Corporation's ownership, there are signs that it is starting to become more commercial, having signed deals in the past few months with high-profile advertisers such as Lynx, the COI and Bono's Product Red in the UK alone.

Critics of Murdoch's strategy have questioned how easy it will be to tame and commercialise MySpace while maintaining its huge user base, which is crucial to its long-term success. It was for this reason that in the summer, a localised version of the site was launched for UK users. According to Jay Stevens, vice-president of operations for MySpace UK, this is key to ensuring that the site is as relevant as possible for users. This, it hopes, will help attract advertisers.

Stevens adds that MySpace is already putting Murdoch's vision of offering advertisers relationships with users into place. 'We have the banners and buttons, but enabling brands to connect directly with users is what makes it really interesting,' he says.

Stevens cites an example of a promotion currently running on MySpace around the release of teen dance film Step Up. Universal Pictures has built a MySpace page where fans of the movie can enter competitions, post videos of themselves dancing and obtain extra information about the film.

The page, which is promoted on the MySpace homepage and through search activity, has already attracted more than 2500 'friends' - the barometer used by the site for gauging a page's popularity.

Building niche communities around specific brands is an area that MySpace, as a social-networking environment, is perfectly placed to exploit. Stevens says it is already working with entertainment and media brands, although he is adamant that the strategy can work for any sector, providing an advertiser is able to offer interesting content. 'It is about us helping the brands to find individuals who are interested in them, and who they can give something back to,' he says.

Many mainstream advertisers have to date been put off MySpace by its reputation as an uncontrolled virtual community, where spammers and sexual predators are known to lurk, as well as some users' disregard for copyright. But while the fact that it was unofficial and created by its users has been a key part of MySpace's success, News Corp has sought to address these issues by embarking on a clean-up of the site and removing copyrighted material. Its new owner has also launched several dedicated channels, such as Film, Music and Comedy, to make it more attractive to advertisers by categorising users.

The creation of the channels is a natural evolution for MySpace's focus on specific subjects, such as music, which has led to it becoming known as a marketing platform for unsigned bands. However, analysts have warned that making the site too commercial could be risky, as users might turn away from the site if they feel their interests are being subjugated to those of advertisers. …

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