Growing engagement with native ads: The New York Times’ approach
Case Study

Growing engagement with native ads: The New York Times’ approach

The New York Times aims to deliver valuable news and information to readers, wherever they may be consuming content. With the growing consumer shift to digital, the company developed a variety of properties and platforms to provide readers with quality experiences on all screens, including a virtual reality app for Android with Google Cardboard. With more than one million digital-only subscribers in 2016 consuming content on all of these expanding platforms, however, The New York Times faced a new business challenge: creating a sustainable advertising model that efficiently and effectively scaled to all of its properties.

Building a sustainable advertising model with Flex Frames

Over the years, The New York Times has experimented with different advertising models to find a solution that prioritizes readers’ experiences while keeping an eye on the bottom line. “If we don’t create useful and engaging ad experiences,” says Nicholas Van Amburg, VP of Ad Innovation at The New York Times, “our business is not going to be sustainable and successful long-term.” With that in mind, the team developed Flex Frames in September 2015. Flex Frames follow an advertising model where the ads seamlessly integrate with a reader’s content experience.

While Flex Frames successfully adapted to the look and feel of its content on all screens, The New York Times quickly ran into roadblocks when attempting to scale this new ad format to all of its diverse web and app properties. The innovation team found themselves overwhelmed with long hours of coding and compiling individual ads for review by advertisers.

Scaling Flex Frames with Google Ad Manager

With Ad Manager, the team found an efficient way to expand their Flex Frames offering. The team created a library of native styles adhering to the Flex Frames guidelines in Ad Manager. Advertisers now provide a single set of components for ‘flex’ ads — image, headline, copy, etc — and Ad Manager automatically compiles the right creative from these components, applying the right style to match readers’ contexts — meaning the device, the content, the amount of space available, and more.

In the past, Flex Frames took an enormous amount of time because each layout required handholding. But, with Ad Manager, the advertiser can supply one set of assets and it can automatically distribute it to different layouts and formats.

Benjamin Cheung, Ad Technology Engineer, The New York Times

Better visibility and greater engagement with Flex Frames

The New York Times pushed further, using its first party audience insights to serve advertising that was most likely to be relevant for each individual reader, in both format and content. “If we know a reader is more likely to watch video content than view photos in a carousel,” Lauren Reddy, Associate Director of Audience Development at The New York Times explains, “we can serve him or her a piece of video advertising rather than a photo story.” With this scaled approach to deliver native ads relevant to a user’s interests and context powered by Ad Manager, the team saw a six-fold increase in CTRs with four times more viewable impressions. The response from advertisers has been positive as well, as they have jumped to take advantage of this new type of inventory.

The seamlessness of the user experience has improved our performance all around.

Nicholas Van Amburg, VP of Ad Innovation, The New York Times

Setting the pace for the future

As content channels and screen types continue to increase in variety, The New York Times will look to Flex Frames and native advertising as the key to creating a scalable and sustainable business with ads that drive engagement. The next frontier in their native ads strategy is making Flex Frames available to programmatic buyers in partnership with Ad Manager. Nicholas says, “Our innovation and partnership with Ad Manager will bring more scale and opportunity to our platform. It’s an a exciting step in the right direction.”

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