Earlier this week I spoke on a Publishers Australia panel that was quite indicative of the current publishing landscape. From the ‘traditional’ magazine side there was Harriet Farkash, Features and Special Projects Director at Cosmopolitan magazine. On the branded side there was MD of custom publisher Pacific+, Georgina Brujic, and Alex Light, Director of youth media company VICE. And then there was me, a magazine junkie turned branded content convert.
The career-killing decline in print journalism wasn’t the only reason I left magazines. The truth is, I did see pressure coming from advertisers to include their products in editorial features. This was something hotly debated on the night – both Harriet and Georgina were adamant that if an advertiser’s merchandise was in an editorial feature, it was because it was genuinely a standout product. Without that promise, all integrity is lost.
This debate raised some interesting questions around the display of editorial versus advertorial and if, how and what we should label branded content. Below are two key questions sent to me by the night’s host, journalist Edwina Storie. This is how I see it from a digital content marketing perspective.
There’s debate around branded content just being renamed advertorial. How do you distinguish between the two?
To me an advertorial is something that promotes a brand’s products or interests in an editorial format. There’s nothing wrong with that approach – if a butter company wants to share a delicious cake recipe that happens to include their product in the ingredients list, I don’t see any harm. But it’s not the only form of branded content out there.
Take, for example, this article on farting in bed from NRMA website Live4. Is this article trying to sell people NRMA products or services? Absolutely not. But it’s of interest to their target audience and helps them build brand awareness and personality. To me, that’s not advertorial, it’s editorial content published by a brand.
Does branded content have to be signposted “advertorial” or “promotion”?
If there’s a makeup advertorial or promotion in Cosmo magazine, then absolutely – readers shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it’s an unbiased feature, which is why these magazines use such signposts. But this rarely applies to digital content marketing. The great majority of the brands we work with own their own media channels, websites that are signposted with a branded logo. They actually want you to know it’s their brand voice, rather than piggyback off someone else’s.
The fact this issue was debated in an otherwise civilised discussion on branded content tells me this: today’s audience doesn’t seem to trust traditional, ‘editorial’ media. And who could blame them? (This B&T follow-up story on the event, for example, is particularly sensationalised.) This presents a real opportunity for brands – be transparent in your content marketing efforts and your audience will reward you with their trust.
At the end of the night, the panelists did all agree on one thing: the secret to good branded content isn’t about the brand, it’s about the audience. And that’s what will uphold the future of Australian publishing, branded or otherwise.
Kye Mackey, Senior Content Strategist