There’s a lot of background chatter lately about brand sponsored content being the death of journalism. It’s true that the traditional financial model that allowed the journalism profession to flourish in the latter decades of the 20th century has been getting slowly chipped away at more or less since the turn of the millennium.
But lately, there have been signs of life as journalism and advertising are beginning to intersect in some interesting ways. We’re not talking about the sort of transparent advertorials that we’ve seen in the past. The kind of intersection between editorial and advertising that we’re seeing lately is happening on a rather more sophisticated level. And the most exciting venue in which journalism and advertising are combining is in the area of content marketing.
The Need for Brand Sponsored Content
Even before we all got DVRs, most of us were fairly adept at tuning out TV commercials or timing our trips to the fridge to avoid being subjected to the banalities of television advertising. Meanwhile, once upon a time, back in the late Nineties, people actually looked at and clicked on banner ads. But now we’ve learned to ignore those as well. The print publishing industry is essentially on life support, so advertising in magazines hardly seems like the most effective way to target consumers these days.
With so many traditional advertising/marketing angles being squeezed out, there was a demand for something new to arise. That something new seems to be brand sponsored content, or content marketing, as it’s more commonly known.
Is Content Marketing Journalism’s Killer or its Savior?
Many in the traditional publishing world are fretful about the way that brand sponsored content is supposedly in danger of delivering the fatal blow to the wounded beast that is journalism. On the other hand, there are others who find the whole phenomenon less threatening and are instead, intrigued. A handful of established, credible publishers have even begun creating content for brands. Over the last couple years, The Onion, Gawker, and even The Atlantic have all launched agency divisions and begun producing content for brands.
The Buzzfeed Model
Perhaps nowhere is the tricky intersection between editorial and advertising content better exemplified than on Buzzfeed, a website that’s completely eschewed the traditional methods of online advertising. With no banner ads to be seen, Buzzfeed instead features sponsored editorial content from brands like Nike, Axe and Virgin Mobile, that are credited as “featured partners.” Featured Partner content on Buzzfeed is virtually identical to the site’s native content; mainly consisting of listicles like “10 Things From The ‘90s That Should Make a Comeback,” or “20 VHS Tapes Too Good To Throw Out” that could easily have been actual editorial content on the site.
Things are Getting Interesting
Good content marketing occupies an intriguing territory where journalism, advertising, satire, and marketing all have the potential to influence one another. This rapidly evolving space already seems to have injected more depth into advertising, while simultaneously giving the journalism industry a badly needed shot in the arm. Marketing content frequently now delivers genuine value to users, even if they don’t end up being converted. Journalism meanwhile, seems to be learning a few new tricks as well with Forbes.com recently rolling out a compensation program based on how well an article performs in terms of attracting traffic.
With advertisers imitating publishers and publishers creating content for advertisers, things are definitely starting to get interesting. However rather than get freaked out about it, we’re taking the attitude that whether you call it content marketing, native advertising, or branded content, what we’re actually talking about is one of the most exciting and rapidly evolving spaces in the entire digital media realm.