The next major trend in display advertising is to bring branded content into ads. This allows consumers to interact with content — like recipes or news articles — directly in ads, thus circumventing the elusive clickthrough as a KPI. In order to do this, marketers must create content, then find a way to make the process of bringing the content into ads repeatable and scalable.

Even before the ad creation process starts, creating content — to pull into ads or otherwise — is difficult in itself. According to a 2013 survey by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 64% of marketers are challenged with producing enough content, 52% with producing the kind of content, and 45% with producing a variety of content.

A few brands have experimented by partnering with relevant publishers on specific campaigns centered around content. For example, a personal care brand might partner with to identify topics about natural skincare that consumers are interested in.

Then the editorial team at would write related articles, and the media agency would promote the content via display ads. The cross-functional team would meet to discuss topical trends, which influence the type of content to produce.

This current approach is cumbersome due to operational inefficiencies. Stakeholders have to identify topics, scour the web for content or create it from scratch, approve it for legal use, determine payment, and manage licensing.

This process typically takes a week at minimum, and while this is incredibly fast compared to traditional creative development timelines, by the time it is complete the consumer may have moved on and your content is no longer relevant.  Even if content-driven ads perform better, the process is too cumbersome and time-consuming to do on a regular basis compared to static or regular rich-media ads without content.

Despite all the upfront work, offering content in ads is important enough that brands are looking for ways to make this approach a regular part of their marketing toolkit.

So how do we get this concept to scale? One alternative that few brands have tried, is to leverage existing content with reputable publishers such as The New York Times, Getty Images, and Reuters, as well as interest-specific sites such as Martha Stewart or Glam. This mitigates the burden of brands having to source and manage content.

Everything that traditionally bogged down this process is now scalable: publishers to work with, individual content that’s topical, licensing, payment — all of those areas can now delivered in one place. When brands are able to select from a library of content that is ready to be used, it circumvents having to manage individual agreements for each piece of content in each ad campaign.

How would it work? One possibility is to create a platform where brands can identify phrases or keywords of interest, then search within a set of thousands of existing, pre-written content pieces. Then they do a quick review with internal legal teams before hitting “publish” into an ad. For example, if a food brand wants an article about the benefits of organic products, they can choose drill down into this category to see articles, and place the article directly in a display ad.

The publisher is a key part of this process, because they must be incentivized to allow brands to re-publish content. If the publisher gets a slice of revenue that the ad generates, as well exposure for their content and a link to their site, this makes it more likely to achieve buy-in. Meanwhile, the brand advertiser benefits because they get to associate themselves with a reputable publisher and offer objective, third-party content.

Combining content in display is still a nascent idea, but it’s easy to see it evolving and growing. Instead of content being limited to exposure on a brand’s website, the ads and corresponding content can run anywhere banner ads appear. What does this mean for publishers who can now reuse old articles? What does this mean for brand and publisher relationships? Will there be unintended brand affiliations due to content which might appear to endorse a product? The answers to these questions will unfold soon.