It's no secret that content marketing is booming. At Brightcove, we're on the front lines with our digital marketing customers as they artfully navigate the "owned" content waters. As a result, I wholeheartedly understand how high-quality content can effectively, powerfully support an organization's brand building and sales goals. What's also true, though, is that brands' content marketing efforts are actually breathing new life into media companies by creating an additional avenue for revenue generation. I highly recommend a Mashable post exploring this very thesis that was published just yesterday, "Can Content Marketing Save Journalism?" In the well-crafted contributed post, Contently's Sam Slaughter outlines how high-profile media companies (both "old" and "new"--i.e. The Onion, Gawker, The Atlantic and BuzzFeed) have established separate content arms--or internal agencies--whose sole purpose is to create sponsored content for their advertisers.
We touched upon this subject briefly in a post earlier this year, and it's a trend that continues to gain momentum: publishers are wading into ad agency territory and vice versa. But what does this mean for brands, not to mention their target audiences?
Bold brands can thrive by tapping publishers' expertise. Take, for example, the Microsoft IE9 video spoofs produced by The Onion and referenced in the Mashable post. Microsoft probably doesn't have a great deal of "cool" credibility with The Onion's core readership--but, by not taking itself so seriously and working on branded content in conjunction with The Onion, a major tech behemoth was able to demonstrate that it can laugh at itself and enjoy a good chuckle with the rest of us. As Slaughter mentions, this move also exposed Microsoft to criticism, as The Onion's humor and tone could potentially be viewed as offensive by some. I like that Microsoft was willing to challenge its own brand reputation through calculated risk.
Advertorials aren't new, but their current delivery is. Print and Web outlets have always relied upon advertorial content to supplement traditional advertising. But what's being produced now--both static and video--is material that people actually want to take-in, not just breeze past on the way to the good stuff. When brands tap publishers' internal creative agencies for content, they're being brought material with a journalistic spin--in light of the organization's core competency--including the style most appreciated by the media outlet's typical audience.
Is sponsored content created by publishers ethical? As Slaughter discusses, this is most certainly still a gray area. And publishers have already waded into hot water by being less than overt (some would argue) about what content is sponsored and what isn't. I think this is an easy problem to solve, particularly on the video front where it's more clear where allegiances lie. At the same time, sponsored content produced by publishers may bring impartiality into question and exposes brands to a degree of negativity that they can easily avoid by working with a traditional ad agency that isn't faced with conflict-of-interest issues.
This topic is clearly here to stay--and we'll continue to closely follow dialogue surrounding it. What do you think? Is native advertising journalism's savior? Or, does content marketing negatively influence publishers' journalistic integrity? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.