Brevity is the soul of content – and advertising – at Axios.
The tech, news and politics site, founded by former Politico execs a little over a year ago, was built on the premise that people are bombarded by info and find it nearly impossible to keep up.
“Less than 5% of people who click on a news article get to the bottom, and most don’t even make it past the first sentence or two,” said Roy Schwartz, president and founder of Axios. “And if that’s true for news, just imagine what it means for advertising.”
Articles on Axios are rarely more than a few hundred words and are always broken down into short digestible paragraphs with a liberal use of bullet points and bolded subheads. Axios presents stories in an endless scroll modeled on a social news feed, which it refers to as its “stream.”
Intermixed between the bite-sized info nuggets is what Schwartz calls “short-form native,” the only type of advertising that Axios uses to monetize.
The unit is clearly labeled as a “message from” a brand – Walmart, BP, The Boeing Company and PepsiCo are all Axios advertisers – but looks much like the editorial content around it with a headline, image, video and enough space for a quick paragraph of text.
“There are no pop-ups, no banners, no X buttons to look for,” Schwartz said. “When you cut to the chase – and give control back to the users – they’re more likely to engage.”
AdExchanger spoke with Schwartz.
AdExchanger: What is the ethos of Axios?
ROY SCHWARTZ: We present everything with what we call “smart brevity.” The content has to be good, concise and written by subject matter experts, and we need to be cognizant of and respect our readers’ time.
Every piece of news fits on the size of an iPhone screen. But this isn’t clickbait. You get the information you need to know and why it matters on the first screen, and you can click to read more if you want to.
What’s the pitch to advertisers?
You can get people to click by putting ads on Facebook and Twitter, but what about engagement? We think there’s a better way to help brands get their content in front of an audience and that it’s the same solution we have for news.
Banner advertising has only gotten exponentially worse over the last couple of years with fraud and bots, especially for big brand advertisers. And so we saw these brands start to migrate into long-form native to express their ideas. But there was a problem. Native can be time-consuming to create, and anyway, people weren’t clicking.
Our idea is to provide an advertiser with the entire canvas of a mobile screen – 80% of our consumption is on mobile – to tell a story, and if the reader isn’t interested, they can just scroll on past.
Axios is big on newsletters. You’ve got 11 and counting. How do you monetize them?
We use the same short-form native ad unit in our stream as we do in all of our newsletters. If you subscribe to one of the daily newsletters, a brand can tell you a sequential story over the course of a week. If BP wants to talk about sustainability or renewable energy, for example, they can change the creative on a daily basis to tell that story.
What about programmatic advertising?
Programmatic is not something that’s interesting to me. Programmatic banners have caused a lot of high-end publishers to turn to low-end advertising. Luckily, we’re in a space where the brands we work with aren’t trying to sell something with every single ad, to get someone to buy a product.
Engagement is a metric we’re obsessed with for news and advertising alike, and in order for engagement to happen, we need to work closely with the agency and the client.
I hear Axios is in the midst of developing its own proprietary ad tech. What’re you building?
We’re working on a way to tie our data to sequential storytelling. We’ve built a custom CMS that allows us to publish content quickly and efficiently, and that’s the technology we’re playing around with right now.
Central to that effort is getting data to help us help brands tell a better story.
What kind of data are we talking about?
Do three bullet points work better than two? What generates engagement? It’s a ways off, but that is the type of information we would want to provide in a dashboard for advertisers.
Ideally, we’ll also be able to gauge interest in topics based on engagement with other ads. We know, for example, that users read five stories and see at least two units on average every time they visit the site. We have a DMP and an ad server, all the basics, of course, but it’s up to us to do more and figure out how best to use behavior to do data-informed sequential storytelling, so that the experience you have on Axios will be different from my experience on Axios, based on our personal interests.