The Apogee of Content MarketingBy Burkey Belser
January 25, 2016
I’m snowed under in Washington, DC. It will be another two days before our streets are plowed so I’m reading the Times online. Yeah, yeah, call me a paper Luddite yet there’s a certain pleasure in old habits like paper. But I digress. At the bottom of this morning’s online front page was this line of…what, ads? I clicked on BMWs before I realized these were ads. The topic interested me (“The next generation of artificial intelligence is here.”) The row of “stories” were, in retrospect, clearly marked as “From Our Advertisers” but because the eye looks at pictures before it reads headlines, I missed it. Well, that’s…
Point #1. If anyone still believes their riveting headlines out-perform pictures (given relative size and all), think again. Images are your GPS through a sea of words.
Point #2. The ads weren’t ads as we typically think of ads; i.e., of the chest-thumping me-me-me narcissistic variety. They were on topics all of which I personally found to be interesting:
Meet Your Robot Roommate
The next generation of artificial intelligence is here
Is Your Password Secure?
Learn how to protect yourself from a cyberattack?
Meet the Forward Thinkers (image of a child)
Most of us fear disruption. They thrive on it.
The Future of Reading
Find out how magazine consumption is changing
Tech Lifts Fog Over the Restless
Sleep apnea patients are finding salvation.
In fact, they were all so equally interesting, I was loathe to believe they are the work of the advertisers. I reasoned these ads were more likely they were the work of writers at the New York Times on behalf of advertisers.
Then there’s the Luddite part. Accidentally click on an item and you’re lost in an entire, complex page refresh that delivers an unexpected page of boxes. Perhaps I clicked on the wrong thing, so I deliberately aimed my mouse at an ad and clicked. Voila! I find the product of Times Brand Studio, the New York Times native ad unit. I spied their logo on the upper left of the page and clicked. An article on the Brand Studio tells me the effort is a year old and begun by theTimes more with an air of apology than pride. But the clear advertising make-more-money goal was bolstered by a commitment to quality that ensured the project would work: show “that native ads could approach the standards of the Times’ editorial content.”
Point #3. Crap is crap and you get what you pay for.
The DIY trend in professional services marketing is not delivering world-beating work; it’s delivering budget savings. This is an equation (DIY=save money v. Do It Right=make an impact and get noticed) I will never for the life of me understand. The Times, however, invested in a former Businessweek editor and journalists and bloggers from The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. They branded the operation TBrand Studio. The result: their ads do as well as editorial content. Well, shut my mouth!