Thrillist blurs the lines between advertisements and editorials and offers new insight into what future media companies could look like.
Thrillist, a website that unearths lesser known local events in various cities, caters specifically to a young male audience with frequent emails that detail where the latest good time can be found. In addition to its events output, Thrillist also circulates emails selling clothes and local business deals. A recent New York Times article on the website notes that:
It can be hard to tell the difference among reviews, ads and sales, in part because it calls its sponsored posts “allied e-mail” instead of ads and has sold deals for restaurants it has also reviewed.
The novel, or perhaps even cavalier attitude that Thrillist takes to the border between commerce and content is a challenge to traditional publications which have often sought to keep that divide very clear in order to avoid any alleged conflict of interest. Co-founder and chief executive of Thrillist, Ben Lerer, considers this division an outdated concern:
That’s a very old media way of thinking about things. This is not a digital magazine that sells some stuff. This is the beginning of what a new media company looks like.
While it may be difficult for the end user to discern the difference between editorial content and ads from Thrillist, there is no conflict of interest within the institution itself. Lerer stresses that since his sales and editorial team operate individually and separate from each other, it would be impossible for a restaurant to purchase itself a good review through large ad space buys.
The brazenness of Thrillist is an indication that perhaps it’s time for other publishers to shake off their inhibitions as regards melding their content with other streams of revenue, a trend which may not be that fare off. Some more traditional publishers say that savvy online readers are more sophisticated, compiling personal newsfeeds and relying on Facebook and Twitter feeds to serve as their content filters. In this altered environment of consumer reception there is room for a more liberal approach. Furthermore the Thrillist model is also very attentive to its need for trust among its readers:
It’s not like Thrillist is shoving it down readers’ throats. Their editorial voice is their credibility, so hurting that in any way would be pretty harmful.
This cultivated trust is crucial to the Thrillist’s success and their niche concentration on young men is also a contributing factor. The Thrillist thus shines in the trust and taste categories, identified as key areas in successful online content provision. By excelling in this regard they gain privileged access to their consumer’s attention.
You’ve got to be really, really good for the consumer to let you come into their e-mail box. Once you do that, advertisers will pay a premium.