LONDON — PopSugar chief executive officer Brian Sugar believes editors and advertisers need to be closer bedfellows, and that advertorial is the content of the future — at least for sites such as his.
He’s perfectly comfortable, too, with making editorial and advertising content indistinguishable from each other. He said it’s the way forward, especially when the aim is to appeal to Millennials.
“Brands have stories to tell,” Sugar told WWD. “We as publications have stories to tell. We should merge those together and help the advertiser talk to our audiences in an efficient, authentic manner — rather than ruining what they’re there to do in the first place.”
He said sites such as PopSugar are already working with advertisers to create content for different distribution platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, and that native advertising is resonating with viewers long annoyed by pop-up ads.
“Before, it was all about interruption advertising…which was blocking the actual content that you wanted to read. I don’t think that’s going to exist in the future, because if you build a content experience with the consumer first, and then the advertiser, I think you’re going win,” he said during a telephone interview while he was attending an advertising festival in Cannes, France, earlier this month.
“For PopSugar, I would be very surprised by the end of next year if we had any display advertising. It’s all native here.”
PopSugar Inc. was founded in 2006 and includes the fashion and lifestyle site PopSugar and the shopping platform ShopStyle. Headquartered in San Francisco, it also has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and London.
Sugar points to BuzzFeed as using native advertising to great advantage. “BuzzFeed is essentially a creative ad agency with a cool website. All we need to do is create amazing content with advertisers who are trying to reach our own audience.”
He also believes that viewers are far more concerned with the speed and quality of their online “experience” than they are with the obliteration of barriers between editorial and advertising.
“You shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what an advertisement looks like and what a piece of content looks like,” he argued, adding that it’s annoying to find a big advertising overlay obscuring the editorial content.
“On a mobile device, it’s a 100 times worse, and the Millennials are just not going stand for it. They’re just going to click back and go back to whatever social platform they’re reading. You have to create a great, fast experience for them.”
Currently, U.S. Federal Trade Commission regulations state that print and digital advertisements that resemble editorial content should be identified as advertising.
Online, however, the waters are becoming ever more murky, with bloggers promoting merchandise without disclosing their deals with brands, and publishers under increasing pressure to distinguish between the editorial content on their magazines’ web sites and the products they are selling through their online stores.
Sugar has been working on a variety of fronts to help enrich his users’ experiences and ability to engage with brands.
Earlier this year, Sugar developed Emoticode, an app that links e-commerce to Snapchat and Instagram.
Users or brands can post on Snapchat or Instagram with a special Emoticode link that contains a shortened URL with emojis as the first two characters.
Followers can then take a screenshot with their phone and upload the image onto the Emoticode app. Upon loading the image, the app reads the code and links it to the item for the user to purchase.
ShopStyle, Popsugar’s shopping platform, is now able to monetize its Snapchat content using the new app. Launch partners also include Nordstrom, Sephora and Farfetch.
“It’s very early, and we’ve gotten some great feedback from our partners on how to make the app better,” Sugar said. “We’re going to add the ability for you to see the top photos that have been screenshot…and top influencers using Emoticode.”
Sugar also talked about the issue of monetization for social media platforms and how Emoticode plays to it.
“I think it’s been a challenge. Emoticode addresses some of this. It’s sort of like bookmarking, so once you take the screenshot, you don’t need to do it right then and there. Maybe later in the day or the week you can go to Emoticode and say, ‘Oh, let me look at the screenshots I’ve taken.’ ”
He said his wife (Lisa Sugar, founder of the site) takes pictures of magazine pages all the time. “That’s how she remembers things. And I think this is a similar way of taking a picture — but on social media.”