Is the Comments Section the Newest Hot Spot in Advertising?

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Mike O’Brien

A new product by Disqus, the blog comment-hosting service used by 3 million websites, focuses on “interest-based marketing,” placing targeted native ads with readers’ comments.

Marketers are always searching for new ways to reach consumers, and it seems that mining website comments may be the newest strategy for targeting ads.

Blog comment-hosting service Disqus announced Monday that it will roll out Sponsored Comments, or native ads at the top of reader comment threads. To start, Disqus will limit its Sponsored Comments to American and British clients of Xaxis, the programmatic media-buying division of London agency WWP.

Disqus views this product as “interest-based marketing,” a way for advertisers to reach consumers who have enough interest in topics related to their product to post about them.

“If a [consumer packaged goods company] wants to reach moms, oftentimes we’ll get a [request for proposal] that says, ‘We want to reach moms so therefore, we want to reach 25- to 35-year-old women,'” says David Fleck, general manager of advertising at Disqus. “What I always say is, wouldn’t you rather reach people who want to buy your product rather than a demographic?”

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By targeting readers based on what they read and comment about, Disqus allows advertisers to leverage the massive amount of information the service has about consumers.

But Mathew Sweezey, manager of marketing research and education at Pardot, thinks Sponsored Comments are probably just one piece of a larger monetization puzzle.

“Every medium in the world has had the question of, how do we become viable?” Sweezey says. “Selling ads is more viable now that it’s programmatic, but it’s still display advertising. What about, instead, selling data?”

“[Disqus is] essentially a social platform. It’s a free service, so they’ve got to figure out how to get revenue somehow,” he continues.

Though Disqus has monetized before – two years ago, the platform launched Promoted Discovery, which introduced a box in the comments section highlighting other content, including sponsored links, that the reader might like – Sponsored Comments is still a novel concept. Global programmatic platforms for native advertising are something new for the industry.

The sponsored posts, which beta-launched in April, have their own landing pages, so any comments directed toward them won’t disrupt the reader discussion. Disqus also provides tools for advertisers to scan those comments for spam and profanity, as well as select keywords and expressions.

With 70 percent of the comment market share, Disqus is used by 3 million websites, including ClickZ. Though the service’s website boasts 150 million registered users, Sweezey points out the scale is relatively small, compared to the number of consumers who don’t bother reading the whole article, let alone scrolling into the comments.

Furthermore, Sweezey questions if brands will pay for this new service.

“Do brands really need the ability to scale comments when you can just as easily do a Google search, see the articles related to your products, and be a part of the conversation on your own, organically, instead of paying for it?” he asks.