Having a Creative Career Means Writing Ads Sometimes. I’m Okay With That.
I hope you all read Noah Davis’s “If You Don’t Click On This Story, I Don’t Get Paid” yesterday in The Awl. If you did not, here is a rough summary:
The general consensus is that it’s the best time since the very early days of the web to make money by writing online, and a marked improvement from even two years ago.
If you’re a freelancer, you can go hungry riding on your emaciated high horse, or you can devote some portion of your time to doing [sponsored content] work.
The reality is that almost all editorial is paid for by advertisers at some level. “I wonder if we are starting to eschew sponsored content a tiny bit less,” Jazmine Hughes, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, said. “These things are happening because big luxury brands are handing over a huge chunk of money to have an elevated editorial ad. Maybe we are getting to a point where sponsored content is getting less uncool.”
I have absolutely written sponsored content for some of my clients, and I have also been asked to review products and write about them in pieces sponsored by the makers of those products. Everyone is required to disclose all of this, thank goodness; that’s why you see those “sponsored content” boxes around articles or that little note at the bottom: This article was supported by our sponsor, ProductName.
Do I feel badly about writing sponsored content? Nope. I think it’s a great way to fill out my freelancing portfolio because—as Davis notes in his Awl piece—few types of writing pay as well as advertising, and that’s why so many freelancers embrace both.
And then there are those who don’t. As Olga Khazan recently reported for The Atlantic:
The success story of Dooce.com was once blogger lore, told and re-told in playgroups and Meetups—anywhere hyper-verbal people with WordPress accounts gathered. “It happened for that Dooce lady,” they would say. “It could happen for your blog, too.”
The blog survived [Heather Armstrong’s] hospitalization for postpartum depression and her separation and divorce in 2012. But in the end, there was one thing she couldn’t weather: The rise of native advertising.
The shortest version of this story is that Heather Armstrong, the writer behind Dooce and one of the first hugely successful “mommy bloggers,” realized she could no longer support her family on money made from Dooce banner ads. People click these ads much less often than they did five years ago, and smartphones often obscure or hide these ads from readers. As Khazan writes:
In recent years, banner ads have been usurped by the “native ad,” sometimes called sponsored content. These often look like regular articles but are paid for by companies. Sometimes the sponsor’s logo is the only sign of their investment.
Armstrong tried writing some native advertising for Dooce, but in the end decided that it was too stressful; her readers did not like the idea that she was getting paid to write blog posts about specific products, and Armstrong did not like the advertisers who asked her to get her children to test the products (and then blog about her kids’ reactions).
So she quit blogging. My response, on the other hand, is to ride that money train as far as I can.
Sponsored content isn’t just for writers, by the way. I’ve already written about how it is a big part of Vine stars’ incomes, and last week my friends Angela and Aubrey Webber of The Doubleclicks made a video for Nerdist featuring Totino’s Pizza Rolls:
The thing about that Totino’s video is that it’s super great. It is inventive and hilarious and way more interesting to watch than any commercial I’ve seen in the past who-knows-how-many years. (I’ve watched it about five times now.)
So being The Doubleclicks means you get to chart on Billboard and you get to make probably the best Totino’s advertisement in existence. For me, this feels like a win. For other people, it feels like something is lost.
What do you think? Shall we embrace our sponsored content future? And to the brands out there who are reading this, I would love to write sponsored content about any of the following:
—Ann Taylor Loft
—Any kind of pink wine
—Krispy Kreme Donuts
Contact me, brands. Let’s get started.