How One Publisher Handles Native Ads in Print
Mental Floss incorporates a Toyota-sponsored takeover into its December issue, boosts revenue over a standard issue by almost 40 percent.
But the takeover isn’t simply a wholesale buyout of prominent ad placements. Toyota wanted its creative integrated within the 500 list and Mental Floss reconfigured a popular digital content franchise for print to make it all work.
The magazine has for a while now offered content marketing services to clients, and the brand’s editorial team is very involved in that process. So involved, in fact, that no one defected or led a mass exodus when the Toyota campaign was sold when the issue was about to be put to bed.
Tara Mitchell, Mental Floss’s vice president of marketing, sat down with the edit team to figure out how to overhaul the issue’s layout to incorporate Toyota’s marketing vision. “We started with our general magazine format and figured there were 12 slots for full-page advertisements,” says Mitchell. “But Toyota didn’t want to do it that way.”
Toyota settled on the 500 list as its primary real estate for the native format and after several iterations, the Mental Floss team came up with a series of 1/3 horizontal and vertical strips that gradually revealed the Toyota branding as the reader progressed through the feature well.
That plan, however, meant the list and the front-of-book had to be re-mapped, says Mitchell. “Because we’re small and nimble I could sit with the editor and say, ‘What if we ripped apart the magazine? Would that be cool?’”
The edit team approved and got to work on the layout. “They redid the upfronts and reworked the edit package and while the edit design team was working on that, the marketing team was working with the Toyota marketing team and going back and forth on the creative,” says Mitchell.
The 1/3 ads were modeled after the Mental Floss Amazing Fact Generator, a digital content feature that spits out random facts at the click of the mouse. Toyota was promoting its Tacoma pickup and wanted to appeal to the armchair adventurer—a segment that Mental Floss has identified in its readership—so the facts zeroed in on desert adventure and other extreme sports themes.
In all, Toyota ran 15 placements within the Mental Floss 500 list feature (and four full-page ads, including covers 2, 3 and 4). Each strip, which features a fact such as “Bold fact No. 8265: The earliest bike helmets were made of cork,” is discretely slugged as “Advertisement.” Toyota branding doesn’t appear until the ninth ad, where all we see is a Tacoma tailgate.
By the eleventh strip, we see more Tacomas speeding through a desert scene along with the same motorcycle riders featured in the series of fractionals. And by the 14th and 15th ads, the more traditional messaging is combined with the “Bold Facts.”
Despite closing on the deal so late in the issue’s cycle, Mental Floss publisher Molly Bechert says the process went smoothly with Toyota.
But edit wasn’t the only group that had to readjust to the takeover. Bechert says advertisers had to be moved out of the issue to accommodate the incoming Toyota ads.
“That was an unfortunate side effect of the plan,” she says. “But we made sure they were taken care of in other ways. We put some in the January/February issue, others were moved to digital. There were no clients beating down my door. We made good by them, no one got the short end of the stick with this.”
The success of the issue smoothed over any last-minute changes to edit and ads. Mitchell says the takeover eclipsed a normal issue’s revenue by 30-40 percent, and Bechert and her team will be pursuing more ideas like this in 2016.
At the end of the day, Bechert and Mitchell feel like they’ve found a good line to walk between reader and marketer. “There is this belief in the marketplace that you either put the reader first or the advertiser,” says Bechert. “At Mental Floss, we think we can put the reader first, but simultaneously meet the advertiser’s needs. The content we use with Toyota works for our reader and absolutely checked all of Toyota’s boxes.”