Disqus discussions: A new programmatic frontier

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The commenting software is primed to target advertising to individual discussions based on the subject of the conversation

Disqus is throwing a new type of targeted advertising into the digital mix.

The software, which powers online comments sections across the Web, is teaming with programmatic ad platform Xaxis to let brands place "sponsored comments" on top of the comment threads of participating sites. Advertisers will be able to mine conversations powered by Disqus for optimum targeting.

In addition to its novelty, this new advertising play will leverage the company’s reach. According to its website, Disqus works with more than 3 million publishers and gets 1.6 billion unique views per month. Sites from CNN.com, theAtlantic.com and wired.com to niche blogs use Disqus to manage comments.

Disqus has declined to comment on which publishers have agreed to carry the ads on their comments section. Campaign’s publisher, Haymarket Media Group, uses Disqus; Haymarket U.S. Vice President of Digital Product Development Cy Caine told Campaign, "At this time we are not actively considering participation in this program."

The programming will debut in the United States and United Kingdom later this quarter, Disqus and Xaxis said. Xaxis said it works with companies in 34 markets across North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Disqus ads can feature text, video and images, and they will be clearly labeled "sponsored." According to Business Insider, publishers, advertisers and Disqus will not have access to specific users’ personal information. Disqus GM of advertising David Fleck told Business Insider it would create anonymous profiles comprising "the deepest audience profiles on the Web."

Disqus has not shared which brands will be the first to roll out the new ads, but the company's vice president of marketing and communication, Steve Roy, told Campaign it doesn’t lack for first adopters.

"We've already worked with two dozen agencies and brands in our pilot phase that began in April," Roy said. "Xaxis will be in market talking with their clients about Disqus advertising starting this quarter."

According to Roy, the company’s breadth of audience will provide several advantages for brands compared to other types of digital advertising. He said mining comments for data helps ensure advertisers’ content is relevant to the discussions where they appear.

"Advertisers can target over 1,000 specific discussion topics at the discussion level," he said. "We do this by analyzing both what's on the page and in the comments."

So an ad won’t necessarily be relevant to the article or blog post, just to the conversation about it. Comment sections often go from discussing an article/blog’s topic to another tangentially related topic. It will be these tangents Disqus hopes to exploit.

"So if an article is about Thanksgiving but the discussion turns mostly to air travel, it presents an ideal opportunity for a travel brand to reach an audience very likely to be considering travel plans," Roy said.

Because Disqus users are "by definition consuming more content and in the conversation," advertisers will be presented with a "very engaged" audience, according to Roy. He added it will allow brands to think beyond standard social media when they consider digital-advertising options.

"Another benefit is reaching people outside of their social feeds where advertising can feel intrusive," Roy said. "Sponsored comments aren't competing with posts from other users. In addition, they're positioned in unique real estate above discussion threads and below the end of a post, where there is less competition from other ads."

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