Cisco Blogs

Creating Effective Digital Sponsorships through Social Entertainment Experiences

- January 12, 2011 - 3 Comments


The concept of sponsorships is often confused and intermingled with advertising in the online world. In reality, sponsorships are a different vehicle than traditional display or video advertising and as a result have different objectives for the advertiser and different intended effects on the consumer. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) distinguishes sponsorships from advertising as the following:

In line with the definitions above, a complete site takeover of the NY Times home page by a brand like Coke (that includes a complete buyout of the ad inventory on the page) will be considered a sponsorship. The intent is for Coke to have a stronger brand association with NY Times, which cannot be achieved by the purchase of a simple ad unit.

With their unique nature, sponsorships can pose several issues for publishers:

Technology Issues

Sponsorship placements are not standardized by the IAB

The assumption with sponsorships is that advertisers want to create a truly unique and custom experience on a publisher website or mobile app. While the desire for customization is largely true, there is still a huge demand among advertisers for some standardized sponsorship placements on websites (e.g. page skin, media player skin etc). For this reason, publishers such as ESPN ( and Washington Post ( publish their sponsorship specifications on their website, so the advertiser can pick the one that they want. This standardization enables faster adoption of sponsorships and increase in revenue for the publishers.

Organizational Issues

The custom nature of sponsorships puts strain on the development organization to get them live and running. Unlike traditional advertising, where the ads are remotely served by an ad platform and does require any incremental development work on the publisher end; sponsorships are for the most part implemented as changes on the publisher site. This requires the publisher development team to be involved every time a sponsorship is created or updated. As a result, sponsorships require a longer lead-time and the allocation of scarce development resources.

Publishers have a hard time calculating the ROI, inhibiting further sponsorships. Implementing a sponsorship requires the creative design, engineering, ad operations and marketing organizations on the publisher side to be involved. Given the amount of staff needed to accommodate these sponsorships, the publisher is often at a loss to calculate the ROI on the sponsorship. Therefore, the publisher does not really have the incentive to create additional sponsorships.  Similarly, advertisers don’t have a discrete ROI metric to gauge the impact of their sponsorship outside of traditional reach and view metrics.

Standard IAB Ad units are easier to sell; ad sales know how to sell them; brands know how to buy them. Standardization of IAB ad units have enabled publisher ad sales to easily sell this inventory on their sites, either directly or via ad networks since advertisers know exactly what they are buying. This is not the case with sponsorships; the custom nature of sponsorships implies that the publisher has to engage in a conversation with a potential advertiser to explain the nature of the digital sponsorship, the creative placement etc. As mentioned above, sites such as ESPN and Washington Post have attempted to standardize these placements and in some ways define a standard for their own site.

Cisco Eos and Sponsorships

With its focus on delivering high-value, brand experiences, the creation of digital sponsorships on Cisco Eos websites is greatly simplified by the flexible site customization tools and the separation of the presentation and and application layers. Publishers can leverage Cisco Eos to create and manage digital sponsorships without disrupting the content experience, or day-to-day operations of their websites.

Case Study – Variety Screenings 2010

In a recent implementation, Variety Magazine created an Eos-powered web site to host video content around their Variety Screening Series 2010 ( To enhance the value of the sponsorship of the physical movie screening, Variety enabled three different digital sponsorships (site takeovers) on the home page – Dell, Altoids and West Hollywood Tourism Bureau.

Dell Takeover of the Variety Screenings 2010 Site

Altoids Takeover of the Variety Screenings 2010 Site

Publisher was able to enable three different sponsored versions of the site with rotation of the versions, without making any code changes to the site. The sponsorships were de-coupled from an implementation standpoint from the actual site.

Following are the key benefits of using Cisco Eos to enable digital sponsorships.

o   The site customization tools enable the publisher to create a sponsored version of the site without impacting the live site and without having to make any code changes. Cisco Eos’ versioning capabilities enable the publisher and the advertiser to review the sponsorship site and when ready, make the sponsored site live.

o   Cisco Eos streamlines the process of creating digital sponsorships on a publisher site and turns it more into a creative exercise as opposed to an engineering task.

NOTE: The Variety Screening Series site only implemented site takeovers as a type of sponsorship on the publisher website. However, Cisco Eos is agnostic of the specific type of sponsorship and provides the same flexibility to implement other types of sponsorship (such as player skinning, specific page skinning, module attributions to a brand etc).

Using the flexible design and customization features in Cisco Eos make it easier and more efficient for publishers to offer sponsorships as part of their digital inventory. This empowers them to build more sponsorships more often thereby increasing revenue and reducing costs.


In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. Thanks for this article. Great post Sudhir... :)

  2. Paul, First of all, thanks for the comments. I completely agree with your insight on sponsorships and the value that they bring to the table. This is one of the dilemmas - standardization such as those for Ad units are required to ease adoption and implementation. However once standardization occurs and everyone does the same thing, it is not cool anymore. To your point, this is one reason why artists in particular have a negative connotation with ad units in general. They are not unique and also do not jive well with their own brand as you point out. So, the trick is getting to the middle ground - where it is easy enough to create these sponsorships, at the same time they are also unique. I strongly believe that rather than attempting to standardize the definition of sponsorships (which are nothing but an extension of existing ad units), it is better to provide the publisher with tools that make creation and management easy. Once this is available such as with Cisco Eos, publisher can create their own unique sponsorships easily, without having the huge cost associated with doing them. You are right on - the creative is where the time needs to be spent, rather than the mechanics of implementing them on a site or an iPhone app. We hope to make the latter really easy with the customization tools we make available via the platform.

  3. Sudhir, An interesting case study - thanks for sharing. One additional benefit of sponsorships, made all the more possible with flexible tools such as those provided by Eos, is that sponsorships can provide a much deeper creative relationship with the publisher. In my world, some musicians are sensitive to standard IAB ads for a variety of reasons. However, they often have deep brand alignments and sponsorships on the artist website can be extremely creative and deeply woven into the content or site creative. A contest which includes artist participation that rewards loyal fans can be a part of a traditional ad, which provides value to the brand, fan, and artist as engagement is high. Also, the site design can be slightly modified to weave the brand into the experience in way that feels natural, rather than the limitations that come with standard banners. Sponsorships are indeed more work on the creative and development teams, however they provide the value back to the site visitor as well as brand and publisher (artist) creating a much better win for everyone. It's worth the extra work, and having the tools to make this process dramatically easier allows for that extra effort to go to creative rather than complicated site rebuilds. And, well...spending the time on the creative is where the fun begins...