The New York Times posted a lengthy, interactive story this morning about how the prison system fails to meet the needs of female inmates. The piece was well-reported. It included quotes from advocates of prison reform, former inmates, statistics about incarceration rates and links to related stories from the Times archive. There were illustrations, infographics and an audio component.
But it was more notable for what it wasn’t, which is a product of The New York Times editorial department.
The story was sponsored content, paid for by Netflix to promote Orange is the New Black, and produced by T Brand Studio, the Times‘ in-house custom content division of the advertising department. Melanie Deziel, the Times‘ editor and social media strategist for branded content, had the byline.
And there was no chance of mistaking it for editorial content. The story proclaimed its sponsored content-ness at every turn. A blue overline highlighted the fact that it was a paid post, both in the carousel on the Times homepage and on the story itself, where it and logos for T Brand Studio and Netflix remained stationary, affixed at the top while scrolling through the story.
At the bottom, beneath a banner ad for the Netflix show, small type, highlighted in what we will now call “branded blue,” reiterated the nature of the piece: “This page was produced by the T Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of The New York Times, in collaboration with Netflix. The news and editorial staffs of The New York Times had no role in its preparation,” it read.
At a time when every outlet is looking to figure out how to approach branded content, the reaction on Twitter to this Times approach has been largely positive, both inside and outside the Times.
“Orange is the new black, and sponsored content is the new Snow Fall,” Nieman Lab director Joshua Benton wrote on Twitter.
“Hanna [sic] Horvath eat your heart out. How to do sponsored content right,” tweeted Linda Zebian, the director of corporate communications for Times digital products.
Piper Kerman, the author of Orange is the New Black, the memoir on which the show is based, and an advocate for prison reform, promoted the content:
While this approach to sponsored content will most likely become a model for future attempts, we can’t imagine it will be that easy to replicate. Not every sponsor is Netflix, and not every product lends itself to this as well as Orange Is the New Black.