In 2015, Ekstra Bladet, the largest Danish tabloid newspaper and by far largest national news site, decided to step in to the market for native advertising. This was a no-brainer to look for new money in a very tough market. We were certain that we could make a difference, but we had doubts if our users would see it as an intrusive format that would raise questions about our editorial independence.
We decided to go ahead and make a move to create Ekstra Bladet Story Studio. That little word, “story,” was carefully picked instead of the commonly chosen “partner studio.” It might seem a fig leaf decision, but for us the emphasis on story serves as a constant reminder that a good story always makes its way if born, raised, and published through an editorial environment.
We haven’t looked back since, and native is now a major advertising storyteller vehicle. The articles and videos published in designated areas on desktop and mobile have very high engagement rates on topics like sports, leisure, and entertainment.
In late June of 2017, Story Studio faced our most complicated and biggest task yet. OPR Virksomhedslån, a newcomer in the online lender business for small- and medium-sizes companies, came to us willing to take a risk. I admit, it didn’t strike us as the sexiest subject. With that in mind, we met up with the CEO from OPR Business Loans.
It was five minutes to summer vacation and inspiration was low. Martin Frederiksen, a former investment banker out of London, had taken on the task to set up OPR in Denmark. Guided by headquarters in Finland, he had tried several well-known advertising formats to raise brand awareness. Nothing had really happened. He had now told headquarters that he would invest 12 months in a make-it-or-break-it campaign. That’s why he came to us. We were the biggest news online site with a lot of his potential customers among our readers and users. And he had heard about Story Studio.
We had one idea: a competition called “Denmark’s Best Idea” that invited small new businesses, inventors, and entrepreneurs to submit their brilliant ideas to create growth and jobs. The winner would walk away with a US$20,000 prize to help finance their dream.
Then we outlined, as always with native, that we had full editorial control over idea, the works, and the publications. The CEO paused for a few seconds. And then he said: “I like it. How do we move on?”
Four weeks later we laid out a four-month publication plan. We started the campaign with three articles about great Danish and international ideas and inventors to tickle our audience. Then we opened the competition that just kept growing and growing. The ideas submitted were presented to users and a board of professional new business executives. They picked out six ideas to go through to the finals.
All six entrepreneurial contenders and their ideas were presented in separate videos and articles. The winner was announced on live TV at Ekstra Bladet online.
The “Denmark’s Best Idea” campaign outperformed on all set key performance indicators (KPIs):
- Increase in brand awareness of 950% — far higher than the original target of 200%.
- Average engaged time outperformed over all comparable editorial content with 35%.
- OPR moved from fifth to first place in top of mind in target group.
- Plus 450,000 pageviews, which is 33% above target.
- Deep engagement: More than 250 ideas were submitted and 5,700 users votes on best idea.
Our key learnings included: Stick to your DNA as you know your audience. Give the users the good story they expect. Reach out for engagement. And go with the advertisers that understand and accept that you as a publisher know best.