Flipboard looks to boost native ad sales with swipe-friendly Storyboards

Flipboard, the mobile and web app that lets you aggregate, discover and read content from around the web in a magazine-style format, is unveiling its latest “native” product to court more advertising (and hence, revenue) on its platform. Today the startup is launching Storyboard, an ad unit that lets brands bring in video, photo and other multimedia assets into bigger ad experiences, presented as a montage, browsed using the now-ubiquitous left-and-right swipe gesture, and targeted to readers based on their browsing of other Flipboard content.

The GIF above, of a campaign from SmartWool, is an example of how the Storyboard looks and works. Other early adopters include the cosmetics retailer Sephora.

For now, it sounds like Storyboard — rolling out in the U.S. and Europe — is not a DIY unit as such, although — taking a page from the DNA of Flipboard itself — one aim is to tap assets that an advertiser may have already created, rather than putting the pressure on them to build content specifically for the Flipboard platform.

Flipboard tells me that a brand (or its agency) share the various assets with the Flipboard team to create the Storyboard, which is then shared with the brand in a ‘wysiwyg’ interface to check out. The Storyboards can include articles, photography and video for essentially an “immersive” experience, akin to what you might get in a magazine: a film studio, for example, can include a movie trailer, but also film stills and interviews and reviews of the movie (and perhaps down the line even a widget for buying tickets at the nearest cinema?).

Ordinary users for now can’t create content with Storyboard, but Flipboard said that its editorial team will also use Storyboard to curate small package of content around events, such as the Tony Awards.

Flipboard — which today says it has 90 million users, up from 80 million a year ago when it launched its first targeted ad products — is hoping that Storyboard will give it a boost in its advertising business. Today, the company tells me that it sees click-through rates of between one percent and two percent on full-screen ads; with those numbers doubling on native content in the form of Promoted Stories and Collections.

“Storyboard falls more in the second category,” a spokesperson said. Its focus on several pieces of content, which you access by swiping left and right, is a progression on the Promoted Story (one piece of story content) and the Promoted Collection (3-5 pieces of brand content on one screen).

It sounds like growing revenues is a priority for the company at the moment: one source claims that Flipboard — which has raised around $210 million and is reportedly valued at around $800 million — is on track to bring in some $31 million in revenues this year, falling short of a target of $43 million. We are asking Flipboard for a comment on those numbers.

Storyboard is a notable move in Flipboard’s growth as a business for a couple of reasons.

First, it highlights how Flipboard is building more advertising units that are more like the content that tends to do well on the platform — basically, dynamic, multimedia montages that highlight its magazine-style format and set it apart from the many services out there that run content in vertical, often text-driven feeds. It will be interesting to see what other services adopt formats like this for ads, which you could argue Flipboard was a pioneer in creating, but not monetising. That title, I’d say, goes to Snapchat and its Stories.

Second, Storyboard it also underscores how Flipboard is attempting to do this in a “smarter” way. The company says that it will target Storyboards to users based on content that they are already tracking in Flipboard — by way of its Interest Graph which maps users not just by what keywords they may look for but bigger topics that interest them.

Flipboard’s Interest Graph was made public about a year ago (at the same time that it unveiled its first targeted ads), and while Flipboard may not be the fastest growing company in terms of users (its 90 million users today is up only 10 million on a year ago) usage and engagement are very much on the rise.

“In the past year we’ve seen a 47 percent increase in the time people spend reading articles and watching video on Flipboard,” said Cecily Mak, chief revenue officer at Flipboard, in a statement. “[Storyboards are] a natural next step to partner with brands and give them an opportunity to engage with readers during these moments on mobile devices with rich, diverse content.”