Man braids and Smartwater ads: Inside Equinox’s branded-content site
Earlier this week, Kevin Aeh noticed five guys in his gym wearing their hair in braids. Aeh, a lifestyle editor, looked into the the trend and wrote a piece about the decline of man buns and the rise of braids as hip men’s hairstyles of choice.
Only Aeh’s story won’t appear in a mainstream media lifestyle or fitness magazine. He writes for Furthermore, gym chain Equinox’s new publication.
Last week, Equinox introduced Furthermore as a large-scale extension of its 4-year-old content publication, “Q.” The site, which has a dedicated homepage and a staff of eight, produces two articles a day and also has a small revenue model based on display ads and affiliate links. Its first advertiser is Smartwater, and executive editor Sheila Monaghan said it’s just the beginning: She wants Furthermore to become a branded-content website that will also create content for other brands.
David Gaines, chief planning officer at Maxus, said that from a buyer’s perspective, native advertising within branded content can work if done well. But there are many “ifs.” Gaines said that it doesn’t make sense for Equinox to make native ads for a product like Smartwater unless Equinox actually sells the product at its gyms. It seems like an obvious point, but Gaines said not every brand thinks it through. Too often the buys don’t match up. “Then this is not a good buy, since you can get more exposure elsewhere just running ads.”
Monaghan, who joined the company after working at magazines including Details and Self, said she saw the “writing on the wall” while she was still a journalist. “There was a great opportunity to make content with support,” she said.
Her Equinox team, which includes three editors, sits in a small, closed pod inside Equinox’s headquarters. Fortunately, she said, her new day-to-day job is just like her journalism job: Reporters pitch stories, they get assigned pieces, they talk to experts and other sources, and they file stories. “I do still work on pieces of journalism and pieces of content that are supported by a strong brand but not dictated by the brand,” said Monaghan.
The brand probably won’t mention, for example, other gyms, but she said she has full freedom to call on other experts who may not work at Equinox. The site, which transferred over from Q, gets on average 1 million monthly uniques, she said, and is “growing fast.”
Turning content into a revenue source — as opposed to using it as mere brand-building — is slowly taking off at other brands too. Chubbies, the short-shorts brand, plans to make editorial content a big focus this year. It already sends an email newsletter with funny GIFs or fun videos, but co-founder Tom Montgomery said he sees an opportunity to possibly sell ads inside its publication as long as it’s not too interruptive. “Who knows what will happen in the long term,” he said. “The cool thing about content marketing is that if people subscribe to your content, they’ve already opted in to being sold to, in a way.”
Also, this week, food delivery startup Maple launched QA, an editorial project that writes stories about the food they serve in their kitchens — a recent post was about locally sourced tuna — but also runs branded content for other companies like La Colombe coffee. And a print magazine by niche athletic brand Tracksmith focuses on more high-end serious running culture stories. The brand doesn’t sell ads right now — but not for any particular reason other than resources, according to CEO Matt Taylor. “Our first priority is to create something of value to readers. Once we do that, then it will be of value to potential advertisers,” he said. “So meta.”
That “meta” aspect isn’t lost on Furthermore’s Monaghan, either. But she thinks the pairing of editorial and marketing can drive the Equinox bottom line. “We don’t want to be cluttering the site with display ads,” she said. “So we will work on ad partnerships and content partnerships that are thoughtful.”
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