It’s not about content: Part I

Brands (read: advertisers) are following media down the wrong path, deciding that they, too, are media now and that they, too, should make content to draw customers to their messages (thereby, by the way, getting rid of that middleman, media).

I’ve been arguing that media should build their futures around relationships, using content as a tool to that end. I’d say that is even more true of brands.

Yesterday, Samir Arora, CEO of Glam (where — full disclosure — I’ve been an adviser), tweeted a link to Marc Andreessen arguing that Ning, the company he cofounded and sold to Glam, is about to come into its own as it is remade for brands. That got me thinking about brands’ direction.

Whatever platform they use — Ning, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, blogs or all of the above — is less the issue than the culture that enables its brands and its employees — every one — to talk with and build relationships of value and trust with customers.

We’ve all seen this happen on Twitter when we get pissed off at some unfair or unrighteous action by a company; we appeal to sanity; an employee — sometimes the official tweeter, sometimes just a decent soul — rescues us; our relationship with the company is redeemed.

That is the model for brands online. I thought we’d learned that years go. Apparently not quite. Today not only are brands making content in their own domains but they now want to make content in media’s space; we used to call that an advertorial but now that is apparently called — in jargon that appeared from nowhere — “native advertising.” WTF does that mean?

Mind you, brands should indeed create content and make it available — about their products so we can find every question we have answered. But that’s utility. That’s not what brands talk about when they become media. They make this:

Screenshot 2013-03-12 at 11.24.24 AM

Huh? How is that really any different from slapping a banner onto content? Oh, yes, it’s supposed to make us associate the Droid Razr Maxx HD with exotic locales and long battery life. But Motorola would do better to finally produce a decent phone, in which case, we the users would advertise it. I do hope that’s a lesson Google teaches them. Google understands the value of building relationships with individuals and using knowledge about them to deliver relevance and value. Isn’t that the wise future of media … and marketing?

  • cozen one

    HOW about we visit that narcissistic head of yours and see why you love to hear your own voice

  • Well said Jeff. Eventually nobody will be fooled by advertising no matter what they call it. The initial shock of seeing a Google adchoices ad for a product you were checking out on Amazon an hour ago gives way to a creepiness factor. We’ve seen content marketing before, at 2am on most cable channels.

  • davemacdo

    Jeff, you ask how this is different from display ads. I think it’s important to recognize that this is a (probably mostly unsuccessful) attempt to trick users into consuming ad content. Top-10-slideshow articles are obviously nobody’s idea of good content, regardless of the ulterior motives of the author. However, isn’t this the kind of useful content we want from advertisers? I certainly don’t want to be fooled into thinking an ad is an article, but why can’t an ad be written in the form of an article? As you say, if the content is valuable (as in, not HuffPo’s Top 24 Sideboob Shots of March 2013), won’t people point to it and share it anyway? I have sought out TV commercials on YouTube because I found them funny. Obviously, that’s kind of shallow. If this article actually had some depth, I might be more likely to forgive the advert- part of the advertorial.

    Second, I think this reflects more on the discretion of BuzzFeed than it does about the dumbness of Motorola. BuzzFeed should have the balls to say “no” to this BS form of advertising. I can live with display ads on the content I love. I don’t block ads, as I see those ad impressions as the implicit barter for good content.

  • jeddings

    I think native advertising, content marketing, whatever we’re calling it these days is a good thing for advertising and for consumers.

    PAST: “Here, watch this ad, I don’t care if it’s irrelevant, I don’t care if it’s annoying you right now, you must watch this because I paid for this space.”

    PRESENT: “Listen, we have this deal, right? You want content, entertainment, information, relationships, whatever. We’d love for you to, maybe not buy our product right this minute, because frankly, who is buying Red Bull after seeing an online ad? No, we want you to associate our brand with laughing, feeling good, feeling inspired, what have you. We’re people like you, we’ll provide you with some actual value, and in return, you will hopefully consider us and improve your impression of us.”

    I think this is a huge step forward, and frankly, consumers enjoy this better. Why is it that people don’t mind sitting through the ads during the Superbowl? Because at $4M a pop, they are going to make that 30-second spot damned good. And when they make it good, people not only will sit through them, they will watch it over and over, share it with their friends, talk about it with their co-workers the next day. And if your brand is well integrated with the content, it’s a homerun (touchdown?). By the way, Evian’s roller skating babies is the poster child for doing it the wrong way…creepy babies have exactly *what* to do with bottled water again?

    Frankly, native advertising in its form today is probably no different than normal content, only that the content creator was able to attach a sponsor to a piece of content that is a natural fit for that sponsor (great travel locations => take lots of pictures => Motorola phone). In all likelihood, Buzzfeed already had that content ready to go, Motorola was happy to be associated with the inspiration it would inevitably impart. And to me, that’s the start of a good relationship between brand and consumer: no longer content to making it a one-way conversation, brands are now reaching out to consumers at a level that provides real value to them.

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  • Yeah, for sure content is not all you need. I gain some serious guidance from your article. Thanks for sharing it.