Content Disruption in Native Advertising

Maya Draisin is a quiet storm of media revolution. Her prescience has helped bring digital content to the forefront, and yet little is known about her. As co-founder of the Webby Awards, launched in 1996, she ushered in the digital age through a celebration of cutting-edge content. She has been named one of MIN’s “21 Most Intriguing People in Media” and on Katie Couric’s “Women Who Should Be Famous.” Today, she continues to push the boundaries in content disruption as associate publisher and head of marketing at WIRED magazine.

What do you think the next big disruption in content will be?

In advertising, you’re trying to get a consumer to think a particular way about your brand. In the past, there have been clever ways to get an idea to stick in the consumer’s head. Now, one needs to approach content like you’re trying to tell a good story. You need to look for the interesting qualities in a brand and focus on that. You have to approach it more like a journalist would, by finding an interesting angle and making that your story, as opposed to just creating a product feature.

What are the main components to content disruption in native advertising?

The key is to have great content and a voice that ‘sounds’ like what the reader is used to reading from a particular publisher. Content is more successful when it’s consistent, because it feels organic to the environment that it’s in. But it has to be clear to the reader that it is paid for, without creating a negative perception of the content. Most of the changes are going to come in the sophistication of storytelling and the marketers’ willingness to think more about the reader than their brand.

How do you know when you have a good story?

People light up. If you mention an idea and that person lights up or asks more questions, those are good signs — and then there’s the act of actually telling it well.

What do you consider to be your most successful disruptive strategy?

I’m really very proud of the Nokia program we did last year with Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). [Maya’s team created a Reddit AMA on artificial intelligence with physicist Stephen Hawking]. We were asked to engineer a global conversation about where technology was taking us, but we had a short amount of time. By tapping into the zeitgeist and leveraging key people like Stephen Hawking, we managed to work with both his team and Reddit to come up with a never-done-before platform.

The Reddit community was invited to post their questions for Stephen online. Later, Stephen responded to the questions that had the most votes and his answers were posted to the website. The Reddit community and the press were so excited to take part in this. Everyone was impressed that Stephen was able to participate in a session like this, when in the past he did not have the ability to. Remember that line from Alice in Wonderland: “I like to do six impossible things before breakfast”? Anything is possible — the more impossible it seems, the more excited I am.

How do you tackle the impossible?

Just ask. When we were doing the Webby Awards, people asked us how we made all of this happen. The answer is: We asked. We went to PriceWaterHouse Coopers and said: “You audit the Oscars, can you audit the Webby Awards?” We went to David Bowie and said: “You know about music, could you use that knowledge to help with the Webby Awards?” You have to be brave enough to ask. That, along with a lot of experience and knowing how to make things happen, makes it easier so it feels less impossible.

Who (or what) is your main creative influence?

I grew up in a scientific community in Los Alamos, NM, so I’ve always been interested in where technology is taking us. I happened to graduate around the first internet boom, and I think of myself as being in the right place at the right time. The sense that one could use technology to create new things in entrepreneurship was really interesting to me. And the founders at WIRED were always highly influential to me and my development.

Did you have any alternative influences?

I’m a highly curious person so, really, anything is a creative influence. It could be a billboard in Times Square or posts I see on Facebook and Twitter. I was on a consumer-focused panel at Conde Nast and they had the tagline, “Attention is earned.” I thought it was so smart and it really struck me. Now, more than ever, you really have to think about how your content is going to stand out. How is it going to make consumers want to stick with it? Around here, we always say that branded content is only branded if it sucks. Good storytelling is good storytelling — every one of us has a story that’s interesting, and so does every brand.

— Angela Morris


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