The WSJ cracked the adblocking code

An analysis of the WSJ's innovative answer to adblocking

Adblocking is a cat-and-mouse game. Adtech figures out how to trick adblockers, adblockers figure out how to overcome the tricks. Rinse, repeat.

Rather than play into this expensive game, the Wall St Journal and Netflix took a different approach to advertise Netflix's new series Narcos. They created a custom piece of content, "Cocainenomics," that people would read, watch interact with and share.

History has taught us that content producers tend to apply old content models to new mediums until they figure out how to optimally work with the new medium. When TV first came out, radio presenters would simply sit in front of the camera and read out their radio script. The majority of online advertising is still very much a replication of older content models in a new medium, the WSJ's new ad for Netflix may point to the next evolution.

Custom studios

The piece was produced by The WSJ Custom Studios whose mandate is to produce native advertising. From their site:

Utilizing the power of The Wall Street Journal platform, WSJ. Custom Studios can help advertisers reach key audience targets by positioning brands in some of the most coveted real estate on through its Narratives and WSJ. Post native advertising solutions.

Ad architecture

The interactive ad is made up of:

  • A positioning in line with popular properties such as Freakonomics, Priceonomics and The Hollywood Economist

  • A unique take on an interesting topic, the business of drug trafficking

  • Perfect alignment with the product

  • A navigational structure (it's a website within itself)

  • Plenty of parallax scrolling (the reading experience feels crafted)

  • Custom, full-bleed, repurposed and engaging images

  • Nearly 3,000 words of writing

  • Five relevant videos, three of them from the series

  • Three interactive web widgets including a quiz to test the readers knowledge

  • It should last forever - we can assume this is an evergreen piece of content, therefore the piece will continue to drive interest and SEO for Netflix long after the "campaign period"

  • At the time of writing (25th Sept 2015) 703 Facebook shares, 6,302 likes and 659 comments.

Why this works

This ad is a unique look into the world of one of the biggest drug businesses of all time. It builds on Netflix's Narcos series which was built on the popular Cocaine Cowboys documentaries before it.

Ads work when there's a value exchange. This ad gives us new, entertaining information delivered in an engaging way, in turn we read, watch, interact and share.

The future of publishing

Advertorial teams have been around as long as publishing. As traditional publishers scramble and stress over the death of print they fail to realise the massive opportunity in front of their faces. In an interactive medium there are boundless possibilities of what the next generation of advertorial teams can produce.

Forward-thinking media agencies have cottoned on. Recently, the world's largest ad network, WPP announced it would pair up with Buzzfeed. WPP's fortune 500 clients, Buzzfeed's content production. A match made in heaven.

We have to give the WSJ praise in creating a bespoke unit that leverages the core editorial strength of the business to service brands in a unique way. It points to a future business model for publishers where they retain more control, provide better marketing results and entertain readers at the same time. A triple win.