Vitamin Daily was launched as a blog in 2004 and has since grown to become Canada’s pre-eminent women’s lifestyle magazine on the web. We spoke to co-founder and editor-in-chief Sarah Bancroft about its trajectory.
Since its early days as a blog, Vitamin Daily has seen tremendous audience growth and has expanded into six editions. What’s the difference, business model-wise, between then and now?
We started in Vancouver in 2004. In 2006 we incorporated and opened a head office and started to build out. At that point, what had started as a hobby had become a “jobby,” as we like to call it.
Editorial sponsorships have been the idea from the very beginning. Our bloggers and editors go out and test products, services, read books, see movies, visit restaurants, go to art galleries, take hard hat tours and distill what the best of the best in their city is, and that’s what we present as our editorial.
Business model-wise, at the beginning display ads and banners were very important. As our brand equity increases, the banner and display ads become less important. There are a lot of reasons for that. One is the problem of banner blindness and the second is the downward pressure of CPMs.
Vitamin Daily is a digital magazine but you have mentioned that it acts like a digital agency. What did you mean by that?
I think Tyler Brûlé at Wallpaper was the first to recognize that if a magazine is going to survive it needs to have advertising. Unfortunately not all advertisements and campaigns integrate very well into highly stylized magazines.
In the print magazine world Brûlé was able to produce ads for those companies so that they would integrate well into his editorial, in terms of the way they look – the photography, the illustrations, those types of things.
We’ve taken the same approach in the online world in that we actually build most of our ad campaigns ourselves. We work really closely with the clients to select images that will appeal to our readers and that will be effective for them, and then most importantly, the advertising is written in the tone and voice of our editorial.
Everything is always clearly marked as a sponsored story – either as a sponsored blog, a sponsored tweet, a sponsored “dose,” and for all of those reasons the advertorial becomes more integrated and it becomes part of the conversation.
We’re seeing a real paradigm shift away from the kind of interruptive advertising (pop ups and banners). People don’t want to be interrupted by advertising. Ads need context.
Native advertising has become somewhat of a buzzword. Why do you think it has become so popular and how is it different from what used to be known as “advertorial”?
Advertorial really is more about being integrated into the magazine or providing some sort of service to the reader, but I think native advertising or bespoke executions, takes it one step further in that it’s really relevant to that particular publication or that particular website.
So, for example, we do roundups a couple times a year of our editors’ favourite books. This year for our roundup, Indigo sponsored us and so all of the editors’ picks had purchase links on Indigo and they also had a page takeover, so they had branding all around it as well. That’s an example of adding intelligence and service at the same time.
There is a fine balance between editorial and advertising when it comes to native advertising. How do you deal with that?
It’s funny, because the main criticism of native advertising is that it’s inefficient and it’s too much work, and it’s true. It’s much easier to slap banner ads all over your site, but that’s not what our readers really want to see, and we don’t feel like there’s much return on investment for our advertisers.
Our editorial content is our editorial content and our advertising is our advertising and every publication that makes a go of it has both. Our entire editorial is done with journalistic integrity. It’s completely independent.
Gawker, for example, is hoping to eliminate all banner advertisements and replace them with native campaigns that are integrated into the editorial. I think this is the way things are going and if it’s done creatively and intelligently then it’s a win-win situation for everybody.