“Brands must be made into ‘media properties'”, announced Unilever CMO Keith Weed a couple months ago. Keith oversees the second largest marketing budget in the world at $3 billion, so his words carry a lot of weight.
Brands are in the midst of recasting themselves as publishers. This shift conjures examples of self-serving advertorials, which were invented in the Mad Men era. Brands bought advertising and drafted articles to look like independently written editorial, like this toupee advertorial from the 1960s.
Today many brands default to the advertorial model when thinking about content marketing. They go into pitch mode, touting their features and benefits, whether on a Facebook page, a blog post, or an email newsletter. Content is treated solely as a means to sell product. They treat their audience as if their audience is captive.
Yet consumers can see through this in a heartbeat. And audiences are no longer captive. For content to be worthwhile, it must be worth sharing. It must have intrinsic value that is broader than the features of the brand.
When I worked at method, we published a book called Squeaky Green, a guide to detoxing a home. The only time the book mentioned the method brand was on the cover and there were no specific method products inside. The entire method book was about the philosophy of keeping a healthy home, including tips on buying a vacuum cleaner or carpets that don’t off-gas, topics without any direct method pitch.
Writing a whole book made sense because method stood for a purpose, not just a brand promise. It stood for a happy, healthy home. That purpose allowed method to write a book that was broader than cleaning products. We later serialized the content from the book in blogs and social media. Creating content worth sharing helped cast method as a trusted editor.
A content strategy is rapidly becoming a more important part of any brand identity. Morgan Spurlock parodies this shift in his new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. His April TED talk is well worth the 20 minute watch, as he makes fun of the world of brand marketing, particularly the evolution to media properties.