Sponsored content can look like many things. You might pay a TikTok influencer to create a sponsored video featuring your content, or ask a blogger to write a paid post about their experience using your bestselling product. Sponsored content can be an incredibly effective way to reach a new audience and highlight what your brand stands for—if it's done well.
Here’s how sponsored content works and tips for creating it effectively.
What is sponsored content?
Sponsored content is paid advertising written or produced to look like editorial content, similar to what the publisher’s own content looks like. The content could be an article published by a media outlet, a blog post, an Instagram post, a video, etc. A brand’s goal when sponsoring content is to increase brand awareness among its target audience and reach new potential customers. By providing interesting, enlightening content, the brand may be able to engage readers more effectively than it could with traditional ads.
What are the guidelines for sponsored content?
Guidelines for disclosing sponsored content are set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC requires all influencers and content creators to clearly disclose when brands or advertisers sponsor content or pay them to promote products. On social media platforms, influencers often do this by using hashtags like #ad, #sponsored, or #paid, to indicate the content is sponsored.
If, for example, a beauty influencer produces sponsored content for a makeup brand (let’s say they create a tutorial video for using the brand’s products for a red carpet look), they might mention the partnership in the video itself and also include the hashtag #sponsored.
For the most up-to-date rules governing sponsored content, consult the FTC.
Benefits of sponsored content
Sponsored content can be an important part of a brand’s digital marketing strategy and, when done effectively, is mutually beneficial for both your company and the content creator. Some of the benefits include:
Sponsoring content allows you to tap into the influencer or creator’s audience and raise awareness of your brand or product. Your target audience might be hesitant to trust your brand if their only exposure is traditional ads, but sponsored content with an influencer they follow can help you get your foot in the door and make a good impression.
Compared with an invasive advertisement, which comes across more blatantly as an ad, sponsored content can blend seamlessly with the surrounding regular editorial content. This approach can feel less intrusive to audiences and result in higher engagement. It also gives you the opportunity to provide something of genuine value to your audience—a well-researched article, for instance, or a tutorial on how to use your product.
Search engine rankings
Paying for sponsored content on reputable websites can lead to improved search engine optimization (SEO) for your company’s website. When the publisher links back to your website, you get a backlink from a high-quality source, which can positively impact your brand's search engine rankings.
An example of sponsored content
When washable rug brand Ruggable needed to connect with its audience authentically, its marketing team turned to influencers. Dmitri Cherner, the brand’s Influencer and strategic partnership manager, took on the task of scaling an influencer marketing program that would highlight loyal fans who use Ruggable products.
In order to ensure that the influencers Ruggable partnered with were legitimate (i.e., had a real following that wasn’t composed of bots), he used the influencer marketing platform Aspire IQ (available in the Shopify app store) to find the best candidates. From there, he narrowed down the options to influencers who aligned with the brand’s core audience demographics: moms, pet owners, interior designers, and lifestyle influencers. He eventually partnered with more than 400 influencers, all of whom shared photos showcasing Ruggable products.
Ruggable also repurposed influencer content in paid ads, resulting in a 32% increase in return on ad spend (ROA) and a 25% lower cost per engagement (CPA). In all, Ruggable’s influencer relationships generated more than 2,300 posts, 36 million impressions, and one million engagements. The program was a win for all parties involved.
Sponsored content vs. native advertising vs. branded content
Sponsored content is a type of native advertising, but not all native advertising is sponsored content—and branded content is something else altogether. Learn the differences between all three:
1. Native advertising
Native advertising includes any advertisement that appears on a website in the style of content typically found on that site. Promoted search results, or search ads, are an example of native advertising, but so are sponsored social media posts. Some native ads are basically press releases or even traditional ads in the format and style of the publisher’s editorial content. Advertorials that sometimes appear in news or lifestyle magazines are an example of this kind of native advertising.
2. Sponsored content
Sponsored content is a subset of native advertising. With sponsored content, brands typically work with the publication or influencer on content creation, finding a message and tone that works for both. Sponsored content is typically designed to be helpful or interesting to the publisher’s audience.
3. Branded content
Sponsored content is sometimes (erroneously) referred to as “branded” content, but branded content is created in-house or by a marketing company and appears on a brand’s own channels—usually its website. Branded content is effective at reaching potential customers who are already aware of and interested in the company’s products.
Tips for creating effective sponsored content
Follow these tips for producing sponsored content and finding valuable, long-lasting partnerships:
Outline your goals
Sponsored content is all about brand awareness, but within that greater goal, what are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to target a new audience demographic? Are you looking to refresh your brand identity? Before you proceed, define your target market.
Find like-minded partners
Look for brands or influencers whose style fits with what you’re trying to achieve. One way to do this is via Shopify Collabs, which lets you connect with influencers, send gifts and samples, and pay creators—all on a centralized platform.
Looking for younger consumers? Find an influencer on TikTok. Want to get greater name recognition among the 40-plus crowd? Try a news or lifestyle magazine. Instagram influencer marketing can be a great way for ecommerce stores to connect with highly engaged audiences.
Provide value to the influencer’s audience
Work with your partner to create high-quality, meaningful content that emphasizes information and relatability over a hard sell. Sponsored content should be interesting, compelling, and aspirational.
If, for example, you’re a waterproof watch brand partnering with a travel magazine, you might send a writer on a scuba diving trip to write a travelog about a new undersea experience. If you sell specialty aprons, you might pay an Instagram influencer to post a video of themselves preparing a meal while wearing one of your aprons.
Sponsored content FAQ
What’s the difference between an ad and sponsored content?
The key differences between traditional paid ads and sponsored content are in how they are presented. Sponsored content is presented in line with the publisher’s other content, whether it’s a social media platform post, video content, or an editorial article. Paid ads are overtly promotional, and they’re formatted to stand apart from the publisher’s content.
How does sponsored content work?
From print publications to radio stations to blog posts, sponsored content works because the advertiser pays for the creation of content that is in some way related to their product or service. A publisher that is liked and trusted lends its good name to the brand, which in turn supports quality content for the publisher.
What makes good sponsored content?
A good sponsored post fits with the tone, look, and feel of the surrounding content. It also fits with the audience’s interests. Good sponsored content is not intended to trick or deceive the audience into thinking that it’s editorial copy.