Nora Vanderschrick: “70% of readers like to learn about brands through native advertising’”


Branded content works - that is what numerous studies have already shown. The impact on matters such as brand awareness and persuasion is evident. MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising also believes in the power of branded content. They even created a separate cell for it. Since the advertisement managements were merged, they have more brands than ever at their disposal. What is their vision, how do they make the difference and what will the future bring? We fired these questions at Nora Vanderschrick, Head of Strategy & Creative.

What does branded content entail at MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising?

“We distinguish between sponsored content, native advertising and advertorial content. What does that mean? Sponsored content is content that can be claimed by advertisers through billboards, jingles or banners around editorial content. Advertorial content is content where the commercial message of the advertiser takes priority over the editorial, the story or the context. We aim for an editorial form, but the content is clearly commercial in nature.   This is provided by the client or we create it ourselves. What is included? For example Infomercials on TV and the well-known advertorials in magazines or newspapers. Finally, there is native advertising, this is editorial and product-related content created in partnership with our advertisers. This mainly plays an important role within publishing. We are currently looking at how we can create connections with the world of radio and television.”

“70% of readers like to learn more about brands and products via native advertising”

Nora Vanderschrick
MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising

How long has the branded content-story existed at your company?

“We started with BrandTales in 2015 at de Persgroep Advertising. At approximately the same time, the cell BOX was established at MEDIALAAN. They were both departments that were going to work with branded content. We created our first native content with BrandTales, before that we already had sponsored content and advertorial content. Native advertising really started to boom from 2015. However, we are not among the first globally. ForbesMedia, for example, already started this in 2010. It is their second most lucrative type of income and makes up 35% of their income from digital content. We also want to develop in that direction, but since our short existence, we are not achieving these figures yet. Native advertising is a lot further advanced abroad compared with Belgium. In other words, we still have a good growth margin.”

You set up a separate cell for branded content, why are you so confident about this?

“Because we are achieving good results with it. Incidentally, this is not only true here, the figures are favourable in Europe as well as the US. During our qualitative research after native campaigns we always see a high likeability for this type of campaigns, because 86%* of the readers is really open to it, as long as it is transparently labelled. 70%** of the readers even indicates that they like to learn more about brands and products via native advertising. This also ties in with the trend among advertisers: they want more engagement. No more hasty communication, but more in-depth ways to reach their audience. We think branded content is a sustainable solution for this. It is ideal for advertisers who want to provide a lot of information and cannot reach their target audience in other ways.” 

“One of our biggest strengths is that we can think independently from mediums.”

Nora Vanderschrick
MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising

How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

“Our strength mainly lies in the quality of our campaigns. We want to set a high standard, work on the long term and build a strong story in which we always place the goals of the advertiser first. In addition, I want to honour the trust that we receive from the editors of the various brands by providing qualitative branded content. 

Another big strength is that we can deploy all media from MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising. We can use TV and radio when we need to activate or need to encourage brand awareness. In short, we are able to think independently from the medium and ensure the best match between medium and story. In Wallonia we cooperate with Rossel Advertising, so we have a solution there as well if needed. All of this ensures that we can find the suitable answer to almost every question, tactical as well as strategic.” 


What does the team involved look like?

“Within Creative Sales we have two colleagues who specifically work on branded content and sell that. After all, it is crucial that those who sell it know how the content works. In the team, Strategy & Creation, we have Strategic Content Managers, a Creative Content Manager, a Digital Strategy Specialist and a Planning Executive. The Strategic Content Manager decides which branded content solution is the best and which medium is the most suitable. The Creative Content Manager looks at the approach that we are going to use, from which angle, in which concept, et cetera. Together, they then write a tailored story which they launch on the right media.”

“Thanks to our years of experience in journalism, we can always work with specialists in the field.”

Nora Vanderschrick
MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising

To make that content you of course need top reporters, who do you work with?

“On the one hand with the internal Editorial Team of Karin Bodegom, which consists of reporters with a good, wide-ranging knowledge. But in addition, we also work with external freelance reporters for specific subjects. In those cases, we consider it crucial that the specialist of the field in question writes the piece. After all, being good at culinary content does not make someone an expert on the banking world. When we work with external people, Karin's team will perform final editing in order to safeguard style consistency.” 

During a presentation, I heard you say that you always want to respect the tone and style of the medium where the content is placed. How can you guarantee that if a campaign appears in De Morgen as well as in Het Laatste Nieuws?

“A good example is the campaign that we have set up for a smart ENI thermostat. On we focused strongly on the functional aspect and went into less detail about design. In De Morgen, on the other hand, we spoke mainly about the design. In short, the emphasis was different, the content was dealt with differently. 

We are currently working on campaigns around start-ups for VLAIO (Flanders Innovation & Entrepeneurship agency). For this, we are looking for entrepreneurs who appeal to the imagination of the public. The entrepeneurs we interview for De Morgen are different from those we interview for Het Laatste Nieuws. For LIDL, where we share recipes through videos, we place the emphasis differently in the introductions.” 

What method is applied when making a video?

“Videos are usually outsourced to external parties, but our internal Audiovisual Team coordinates this. When it comes to video, we also look for the right production company or team that has expertise in this field. Birgit Van Hoof's internal production cell helps in this, as they have a very broad network. 

For example, for AG Insurance, who launched four new insurance policies, we made videos of touching testimonies. For this, you really need people who can strike the right balance. We asked Lisbeth Imbo to conduct the interviews. Thanks to her expertise and reporting experience, she was perfectly able to strike the right balance. Poolhert Productions produced the videos. Another good example is the video series for Euro-Premium about the comical dog Smokey. For this, we cooperate with the owner of the dog and Sven De Bruyne from our Audiovisual Team. In short, each domain has its experts and it is always a nice experience to collaborate with them.”  

It's not only about the click-through rate. Engagement is the big buzzword.

Nora Vanderschrick MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising

Forty-two percent of the users do not trust native advertisements on social media, a study by Nielson shows. How do you try to avoid that?

“As a publisher you actually provide a trusted environment, so I think that is a great advantage. That also fits in with the brand safety narrative. We often create a context for an advertiser, so it is also important for that context to be correct. Specifically, what we do is deploy social media from our brands. That way we can also reach the right target audience in one go.”

How do we know for sure your native campaigns work?

“We have introduced the native post-test for this. For this, we work with a test group and a control group: the first has read it and the second hasn't. By posing them the same questions, we can compare. If the advertiser wants to, we can also perform a pre-test. In that case, we then have a real baseline measurement to investigate how they perceive the brand before the campaign. After the campaign we can then make the comparison again. Until now, we see a very positive influence on brand awareness. People who have read it will effectively also have more knowledge about a certain brand or topic. Together with the Research Team we continuously look into the best ways to evaluate and measure native campaigns.” 

Does the test also show you where the reader stops reading in an article? 

“Actually it's about two things: qualitative research and quantitative research. We are setting up our native dashboard for that. This allows us to see how far they scrolled, how long they stayed on the page and if it concerns a video, how long they watched. We always also forward that information to the advertiser. We work with a minimum standard during our campaigns, to set ourselves the goal that the people interact effectively with the content. After all, it's not only about the click-through rate.”

When you look at the other side of the ocean, you see that The New York Times for example is focusing strongly on interactive native content. Are you also working on this?  

“Yes, absolutely. Of course, engagement is the big buzzword. It is crucial to be able to offer that within content. This can be done in various ways: via a poll, via a link that one can click... The campaign for VLAIO that we launched at the beginning of this year is a good example. This included, among other things, a poll in which you could discover what type of entrepreneur you are. It was intended for fun, but it certainly had value. In that way, we could also see with hindsight what proved to be the best way to approach people and with what content, based on their profile.”

“I always ask myself: ‘Am I telling something new?’”

Nora Vanderschrick
MEDIALAAN - de Persgroep Advertising

VR, AR and AI are increasingly linked to native content abroad. Are you taking steps in that direction too?

“Yes, but in this respect we ran into the problem that the production costs are very high. We briefly started something awesome with an advertiser who is specialised in that technology. But the sales market turned out to be still too small for the content. Maybe we can convey our content further with our joint advertisement management and all those brands. But we must always ensure that the production costs are in line with the media budget. Right now, that is an obstacle.”  

Are there other innovations that we are currently developing? 

“I always ask myself: ‘Am I telling something new?’ For example, we are still seeing evolution in video. Half of the projects that we are making now are videos.  In the future, I also want to be able to fine-tune all the various forms of the content narrative with our partners. This way, it becomes a content strategy. That avoids firing one-shots. In short, we think it is crucial to remain innovative and we do all we can to achieve that.” 

I think that's a good conclusion. 

“Isn't it? And they lived happily ever after.” (laughing)