Publishers are running into a wall with so-called native ads. Once seen as the panacea for declining digital ad rates, these ads that are designed to mimic editorial content have turned out to be costly to make and distribute and hard to scale, which makes them a tough sell with advertisers and also eats into publishers’ profit margins. Meanwhile, marketers are also getting more comfortable sidestepping publishers, creating branded content on their own and distributing it themselves.
The Washington Post is trying to solve the problem with artificial intelligence. It built an ad product called Own that lets brands use their own content but promises to improve its chances of being seen and read (or watched) with the aid of Heliograf, a news-writing bot the Post built for the editorial side.
Own works by serving an ad to people based on their past reading/viewing behavior on the site. It uses Heliograf to generate a personalised welcome message. It’s a form of content recommendation, which the Post has done before with its customisable native ad units called Post Cards, but more personalized.