The conventional view of Upworthy is that it is just one of a number of sites that specialize in viral “click-bait,” but the site’s founders have always maintained that it is different because the content it chooses has a larger social purpose behind it, as opposed to just driving clicks. And that’s partly why its native advertising program is working better than expected, the company says — pulling in more than $10 million in revenue in the first nine months of last year.
Upworthy’s version of native advertising or sponsored content — something almost every media entity both new and traditional is experimenting with, including the New York Times — is called Upworthy Collaborations, and involves the site partnering with major brands to create content that looks and behaves exactly like the rest of the content Upworthy posts, most of which is designed to be uplifting or socially conscious in some way.
This makes the program a good fit for advertisers whose message is also designed to be uplifting or socially conscious: for example, one of the early participants was Unilever, which used the platform to promote its “Project Sunlight” initiative — a program aimed at helping feed needy children. Unilever executive Marc Mathieu said the partnership with Upworthy had far better results than the firm expected.
“In less than 8 months, we’ve sponsored and promoted dozens of pieces of content, and have reached over 175 million social impressions, and 6 million social interactions, from over 15 million viewers. We’ve also seen a 17% increase in brand perception among users engaging with the series recognizing Unilever as being committed to protecting the planet.”
Other advertisers who have participated in the program include Whirlpool, Gap, Holiday Inn, Virgin Mobile and Universal Pictures. Universal set up a native ad campaign around its feel-good film Unbroken, about an Olympic runner who is sent to a concentration camp during the Second World War. Marketing executive Doug Neil said the partnership resulted in a lot more engagement with potential viewers than other types of campaign.
“We created a strategic bundle of content — some that we provided, and some that Upworthy curated — that centered around perseverance of the human spirit in the face of adversity, which is the core of Louis’s story. We also asked people to tell their own stories as part of the #IAmUnbroken movement. The campaign exceeded expectations by generating over 60,000 social interactions in just a few short weeks leading up to the film’s release.”
Upworthy said that according to NewsWhip — which measures how content from a variety of media sites performs on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook — the site’s sponsored content performed 38 times better than the industry standard for social interactions involving content at the top 25 social publishers.