It’s flavour of the month right now: you can hardly move for talk of “native advertising” or “embedded marketing”. I prefer to call it content marketing, because that’s essentially what it is: content as marketing.

On Friday Forbes trumpeted the three-year anniversary of the BrandVoice platform, which it describes as “a thought leadership and storytelling platform for marketers”.

BrandVoice has only attracted 30 commercial partners since its launch, but now these partnerships now account for 20 percent of annual advertising revenue across the entire company (release).

This has helped Forbes to make more than half of its entire advertising income from digital for the first time, a big turnaround for what has been a print-reliant organisation. CEO Mike Perlis predicted this would happen in conversation with me in April.

Other stats and developments:

— Forbes is expecting a 30 percent increase in BrandVoice income in 2014

— One client, NetAppVoice, has generated 2.4 million page views from 1.7 million unique users to its BrandVoice articles, according to Forbes, as well as generating 130,000 “social actions”

— A new analytics dashboard, Stats Dash, provides BrandVoice clients with real-time feedback on how their content is performing, while another measurement tool, SimpleReach, provides insight on social engagement.

— received 24.8 million unique visitors in August, compared to 19 million in August 2012.

A serious change in advertising?

The trend for discussing this may seem faddish, but the development is very real. As tactic, this has been around in print for decades. The good old-fashioned advertorial is alive and well in the print world but is making its full transition to online, where, publishers are hoping, it can take on a new life.

But the wider and more interesting trend here is the switch from discreet ad-selling to building strategic relationships and long-term partnerships with brands.

In March I spoke to Charles Yardley, Forbes’ European MD, on how the packages work:

From a monetisation standpoint, it’s pretty transparent. It’s a tenancy fee, it’s a licensing fee, that the marketer pays every six months, based on a minimum six-month commitment. There are two different tiers: a $50,000-a-month level and a $75,000-a-month level.

In addition to that all these marketing partners pull in a media schedule on top of that.

Here’s the audio, in which I also speak to Lewis D’Vorkin, chief product officer.



So from this we can deduce two things:

— Forbes is making something between $1.5 million and $2.25 million a month from BrandVoice licences, or up to $27 million a year. That’s not including display advertising bought separately.

Forbes has BV revenue secured for at least six months meaning much of this revenue has long-term visibility compared to the cyclical and unpredictable ad market.

Many others are using this model: offering brands a platform to talk direct, unfiltered relationship with readers. The benefits are clear – as are the risks. Not everyone is a fan of Forbes’s approach in promoting advertiser-funded messages as “content”.

But despite fast-paced growth and some interesting new formats, banner-driven advertising is in great need of innovation to create products that don’t annoy readers and create good returns for clients. This is just an increasingly important part of the mix that illustrates the changing relationship between the reader, the publisher and advertiser.