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BRAND JOURNALISM

02.09.2013

For better or worse, I’ve worked in the experiential space for just under seven years.  For better: I’ve succeeded and failed at enough things that I know, much more quickly than most who are new to the field, what will or will not succeed.  For worse: I occasionally get too locked into what’s has worked instead of opening myself to the ever-broadening spectrum of what the experiential space can be.

For example (always an example): I was provided a jolt of possibility by this recent article from the New York Observer sharing the landscape of branded journalism.  The piece chronicles the emerging presence of brand-backed content sites – such as Degree’s The Adrenalist orSTIR from Sherwin-Williams – and how they attract the same type of talent as traditional journalism outlets because they are developed to cater to mass readership instead of overt brand messaging (the Adrenalist, for one, is built around an appreciation for active lifestyles – which is in line with Degree’s brand spirit, though a cognitive step removed from what their product actually does).

Why is this a jolt?  In exploring this expanding marketplace, I realized the ambition of these content hubs are no different than ours in a live experience: they intend to break down the barriers between a brand and a consumer to connect over the things both sides can appreciate.  Consumers will tune out heavy-handed product messaging and brands will never spend money without the intent of a return, but somewhere in the middle is a spirit both sides can appreciate.  For us, it’s creating a marathon so that Nike and runners can unite for a shared love of running.  For Degree, it’s creating a content site about the shared love for the things that make you get up and sweat.

And it seems to work.  From the Observer piece:
For a firm like Unilever, Degree’s parent company, content is a relatively small investment, and it is more effective than banner ads, which are starting to cause (to use marketing speak) banner-blindness among consumers and haven’t turned out to be as effective as was once hoped. While it’s not uncommon for an Adrenalist article to have 300 “likes” on Facebook, who really likes ads?

Whether branded content can carry the same authority of a New York Times or Cosmopolitan remains to be seen (although Justin Ellis, an assistant editor at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, does point out that many modern consumers tend to be “more attached to Old Spice and Doritos than to The Wall Street Journal and The Denver Post”).  But I wouldn’t bet against it; we find that brands who embrace this philosophy in the experiential space are able to foster a greater sense of appreciation and loyalty from those who engage.

This is all just another reminder that an experience is an experience no matter whether it takes place in the physical world, on a computer screen, within the pages of a book, or anywhere else.  The broader we, as experiential marketers, are able to go with our definition of consumer experiences, the more meaningful our offerings will become.

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