Website Upworthy has turned digging up emotional videos and attaching irresistible headlines to them into an art form. Now the company wants to start making money off your clicks.
Today Upworthy announced a new native advertising partnership program that will allow businesses to pay for sponsored posts on Upworthy or commission the viral experts themselves to craft content made to be shared on social media. Like viral competitors such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy is eschewing traditional banner ads in favor of paid ads that looks much like editorial content. “There are no expandable banner ads, homepage takeovers, or garish advertorial content on the site,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new ads. “You will see tasteful sponsorships, clearly disclosed promotional content, and excellent curation around topics that both the brand and Upworthy believe in deeply.”
Unilever will be the first commercial brand to formally join the new advertising program, though companies such as Skype have experimented with Upworthy ads in the past. The Unilever campaign will promote the company’s sustainability initiative, Project Sunlight, which advocates for greener living habits to benefit the world’s children.
Upworthy will have to walk a tightrope as it introduces advertising because all of its content is purportedly aimed at highlighting important social issues (“Things that matter” is the tagline on the Upworthy homepage). The reasons businesses want to advertise might not always align with the startup’s stated altruism. “Upworthy won’t be a fit for every brand — and some brands won’t be a fit for Upworthy,” the company wrote on its blog. “We’re looking for organizations interested in drawing attention to ideas that are truly important to society — that’s always our first and most important question.”
The news site boasted 12.3 million U.S. unique viewers in on desktop and mobie devices in February, according to ComScore data reported by Ad Age. The company says it reaches 50 million unique monthly visitors globally and nets about 75,000 Facebook likes for each piece of content it posts. But the company’s heavy reliance on social media to drive traffic makes it susceptible to the whims of tech giants. Upworthy’s web traffic declined after Facebook tweaked the algorithm it uses to populate users’ News Feeds to focus on what it deems “high quality” content. Upworthy co-founders Eli Pariser and Peter Koechley maintain that the Facebook change did not negatively impact the site, arguing that the drop was because November was an outlier with unusually high traffic.
Upworthy will be the latest among scores of news sites to introduce advertisements that look very similar to editorial content. The trend was popularized by Buzzfeed, but has since been adopted by traditional news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and TIME.