The piece that turned advertorials mainstream

Snow Fall, a piece of long-form multi-media journalism created by The New York Times was a ground-breaking piece of work that demonstrated just what could be achieved in the digital form.

It told the story of an avalanche that killed three skiers in the Tunnel Creek drainage area of Washington’s Stevens Pass ski area by integrating video, photos, graphics and text for a compelling reader experience.

Similar accolades are now being showered on Women Inmates: Why The Male Model Doesn’t Work, a piece created by journalist Melanie Deziel for The New York Times’ T Brand Studio.

Women Inmates

However, there is one significant difference: Women Inmates is a piece of native advertising. Yet, it has garnered praise across the industry for its quality and innovation and like Snow Fall, pioneered the form by its quality and level of engagement.

A paid post for Netflix promoting the popular show set in a women’s prison, Orange Is The New Black, Ms Deziel says it began to take on a deeper life of its own as the project got underway.

“To align with the release of season two of Orange Is The New Black we hoped to take a look at some of the challenges facing women in prison,” she says.

“We set out with a few top-level ideas of what we might find, but much like what happens in a newsroom, we discovered a very different story when we started digging into the data and doing our reporting.

“We were able to use what we found to create a more effective and engaging piece than we imagined at the onset of the project.”

It soon became clear the piece was a big story, requiring big presentation to accompany it. “Everyone’s efforts came together – from myself and my editor, to the video team, the designers, the illustrator and the developers,” Ms Deziel says. The piece became an immersive, interactive long-form with video, photos, data and animation.

“We focused on making sure we were telling an authentic story within Orange Is The New Black’s themes, and we worked with Netflix and [agency] MEC to achieve a balance that kept the brand integration from feeling forced or interrupting the reader experience.

“We wanted to create content that could stand proudly alongside editorial, not only in quality of reporting, but in multimedia storytelling and in page layout and design.

“Every advertiser’s metrics for success are different, but, in the case of Women Inmates, we exceeded our page view goals, generated a ton of social traffic, and we received praise from the industry for our execution and our presentation.

“That’s a win in my book.”

As a journalist, how does Ms Deziel feel about The New York Times producing branded content?

“My stance has always been that, if someone is going to be making this content—and someone definitely is for the foreseeable future as the media industry continues to embrace it — I’d rather it be someone who comes from a journalism background that’s creating it,” she says.

Senior vice president and chief consumer officer at The New York Times, Yasmin Namini, says “rules and tools” are the keys to successful native advertising.

The “tools” are what executive vice president of advertising for the Times, Meredith Kopit Levien, described a recent IAB meeting: “Good native advertising is not meant to be trickery – it’s publishers sharing their storytelling tools with the marketer.”

The “rules” ensure native ads maintain editorial independence from marketer interest, Ms Namini says. “Good native advertising means marketers must identify themselves, tell the truth and add value to the conversation.”

The Women Inmates piece, she says, “stands precisely up to the bold idea that brand storytelling can be every bit as compelling as the professionally created journalism that surrounds it.”

Read the August edition of The Bulletin here.

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