The Lad Bible makes its move

A new crop of publishers has emerged adept at engineering content for sharing in a way that has amassed impressive audiences in a short period of time. Nowhere is this more evident than in the emerging genre of “bro media.” The question now is what will these publications become when they grow up.

Take 65twenty, the Manchester, England-based publisher of The Lad Bible and Sport Bible. In just two years, it has built an average monthly audience of 1 million unique users in the U.K., according to comScore, and nearly 8 million per month, according to its Google Analytics numbers. It boasts 1.7 million Twitter followers and 3 million Facebook likes and employs 25 people.

It accomplished this through fare that’s not likely to win many journalism awards anytime soon: galleries like “Photos Ruined By Dogs Pooing,” stories like “This New App Allows You To Organize Threesomes” and series like “Cleavage Thursday,” for example. This is standard lad fare, once the exclusive domain of glossies like Nuts, Zoo and Loaded.

Now, as this nimble publishing operation looks to grow its relationship with advertisers, the difficulties of making money online could soon become apparent. It’s all very well building a large click-happy audience on a small budget then plugging into the open ad marketplace, but taking the company to the next level to attract big ad campaigns to the site is like transitioning from puberty to manhood — the realities of the modern world come home to roost.

Lad Bible, not unlike peers such as Uni Lad, is trying to balance its lad roots while becoming something more than somewhere with photos of hot girls and bloke banter. The editorial fare is still undeniably geared toward young males, but it is, for the most part, broadly safe for brands hungry to meet this elusive demographic.

In the past six months, Lad Bible has built out its sport and women’s verticals and has also set up a direct-sales team to work with brands to provide custom solutions. Display campaigns by Call of Duty (Activision) and Pot Noodle (Unilever) have also been accompanied by advertorials, like 7 Different Types of Football Fan produced for fashion brand Campo Retro.

“It’s not them telling us what to write,” said  John Williamson, marketing manager for 65twenty. “It’s a piece of content about how we think they fit into our brand.”

Besides the challenge in deepening its relationship with advertisers, perhaps the biggest hurdle lies in doing so while maintaining the loyalty of an audience and hoping the Facebook algorithm gods continue to look upon them favorably. But as 65twenty balances this need to professionalize while remaining true to its brand, perhaps it can take heart in the fact that other contemporary media organizations currently face the same challenge. Elite Daily grew its audience in a similar way in the U.S. but has since reduced its coverage of hot babes to help improve its image with advertisers. Mashable, another media company born out of a bedroom, grew on the back of its social media coverage but is now covering news in Ukraine as it matures as a brand.

65twenty’s ambitions to build “the next IPC” with an advertising-based business model will rely on its ability to assert the authority of its brand voice and avoid diluting it under the influence of advertisers.

“Our content guys are our target market,” noted Williamson. “They’re always on things so quick. People like me come in and say ‘Have you seen this?’ and they say ‘Yeah, we posted that last week.’ We’ve hired people passionate about the brand — people who work day and night because they see it as a hobby not a job.”

That is the key message Lad Bible needs to convince advertisers of. There is an understandable wariness that the type of content trafficked by 65twenty’s sites is fairly disposable and has low engagement.

“Do users then go on to visit other pages, or engage with other content, or are they simply clicking on one link, viewing the video, and exiting?” said Rob Weatherhead, head of digital operations at MediaCom’s iLab. “If the latter, then there is much less opportunity for a brand to engage with the visitors as they are so attention-poor.”

This is a scenario that even The Mail Online is facing. It has amassed an enormous audience, but its digital ad revenues remain fairly modest. Instead, publishers now need to think of bringing something more to the table, according to Ilicco Elia, head of mobile at DigitasLBi.

“Data about the audience will become the most important thing — not the fact that you have a massive audience,” he said.

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