Wired so far this year has attracted over 15 big brands to Wired Brand Labs, its nine-person branded content unit, including Porsche, Bank of New York, Marriott and the U.S. Army. Mostly recently, Nokia inked a yearlong deal for #maketechhuman, a multiplatform campaign that included a site on Wired.com, sponsored “Ask Me Anything” threads on the Condé Nast-owned reddit and even a podcast hosted by The Nerdist’s Matt Mira.
Wired is betting that the most effective way to create brand content is to rope in the people who know Wired’s approach best. The content group maintains a collective of producers, video editors and freelance writers who have worked for Wired in the past. James Daly, a former Wired features editor, for example, has also written sponsored articles, including a recent Nokia-sponsored look at how technology is changing love and relationships.
Wired’s formula is a variation on the more aggressive effort by parent company Condé Nast, which uses its editorial staff to write its ad copy as part of its 23 Stories branded content unit. Other publishers, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have gone in the other direction with dedicated sponsored content units, which they hope keep the lines between advertising and editorial from blurring too much.
“We’ve taken a position in the middle of those other models,” said Wired associate publisher Maya Draisin. “The idea is to produce something that is the same caliber of our editorial. We want the people doing this to have the Wired voice.”
The inherent risk here, of course, is eroding reader trust. Draisin said that the magazine tries to avoid that by imposing a statute of limitations on freelancers who work on the branded side. Writing a brand post means writing three months until being able to write for the magazine. The idea is to avoid writers’ bylines appearing on both the editorial and branded content side at the same time.
It’s an “attractive” model, according to MEC managing partner Brian Ko, who said Wired’s ability to extend its reach to other platforms is a big draw. “When brands work with Wired, they’re looking for that amplifier effect that comes with being attached to the brand,” he said. “As a marketer, I don’t think there’s a preference for who is writing it as long as the readers are receptive and don’t feel tricked.”