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Arianna Huffington v. The Times… L’Oréal’s Digital Play…

Arianna Huffington tossed another grenade in the direction of The New York Times during her luncheon address at a Gilt Groupe conference.

ARIANNA V. THE TIMES: Arianna Huffington tossed another grenade in the direction of The New York Times on Wednesday afternoon, during her luncheon address at a Gilt Groupe conference. “The New York Times pay wall isn’t working,” she claimed. “It is so hedged and has so many exceptions that it should be called a hedge wall, not a pay wall.” She went on to contend that a site such as the Times cannot successfully go from free to building a pay wall. “The truth is, people are used to having that information for free.”

Huffington also discussed a common criticism of her own site: blogging without pay. “The truth is, self-expression has become the new entertainment,” she said. “Nobody ever asks why do people sit on the couch and watch bad TV for seven hours without getting paid. Now people have different sources of entertainment.”

Ever the saleswoman, she also talked about how the site continues to evolve, pointing to a new section — its 26th — about divorce. The section launched in November. “It’s now the sixth most popular section on the Huffington Post. It shows how quickly you can build a brand today.”

DIGITAL PLAY: L’Oréal has just made its largest digital investment to date with Demand Media, home to women’s lifestyle sites such as typeF.com (the new Tyra Banks Web play) and eHow. In a new approach to advertising on the Web, the company has exclusive rights to place ads on Demand’s sites, but it goes much further than a straight-up media buy or display advertising.

Content on the sites will be curated based upon the most popular searches online, and the advertising has been created to organically play against that. For instance, if a woman searches on Google with the question “How do I apply green eye shadow to fair skin and hazel eyes?” she will be directed to one of Demand’s sites that has a relevant article, a collection of videos from leading makeup artists on how to apply the makeup and an ad from L’Oréal about its green eye shadow.

“A few years ago, queries on Google were very basic, but now they are getting more and more complicated. Woman are demanding very specific, high-quality information,” said Marc Speichert, chief marketing officer of L’Oréal USA. “We only produce beauty content that people are looking for. Eventually, we will have more episodic feature programming, too, and a series for YouTube.”

Speichert said the digital budget for this year is as large as the budgets for 2009 and 2010 combined, although he declined to give either dollar spending figures or to break down what percentage of the company’s marketing budget would now be focused on digital. “We are maximizing our investment,” he added. “Woman are spending quite a bit of time on these sites because they are relevant and immerse a woman looking for solutions. We have almost every single brand in the company participating in the Demand program.”

“This is an approach to marketing to a group of very engaged women that will change the whole journey of the shopper,” said Erika Nardini, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Demand Media. “You will be met with very specific information, in all directions.”

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