Content and advertising have always been either/or propositions in the context of traditional print and broadcast media.

Advertising (paid media) exists in a clearly circumscribed periphery outside, or adjacent to, the main content (owned media), which is created by a publisher or broadcaster.

Advertising is interruptive. It’s the price readers or viewers pay to get free or subsidized content. Those lines are blurred slightly (but only slightly) in certain contexts, such as “advertorial” sections in magazines.

Advertising — in which an advertiser buys the media in which they place a commercial message — is converging with content in digital environment. You need only look at “traditional” publishers including Gannett, Meredith, Hearst, and Condé Nast, that are buying technology and digital agencies (or, in some cases, establishing their own in-house) to help their advertisers reach deeper into digital marketing with content, apps, social media programs, e-commerce offerings and the like.

Content Creators Advise Marketers On Engaging Audiences

In other words, experts in content creation, such as publishers, now help brands not only to correctly situate their ads, but to create compelling content that will appeal to those magazines’ audiences.

Content is what advertisers are demanding. In digital environments it’s as easy to become media as it is to buy media. Advertising, advertorial, content…the lines are blurring in ways that defy precise definitions.

A quasi-advertorial example might be the campaign Coke Light undertook in France in 2010, partnering both with fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld and with Yahoo France. In the past it had asked fashion designers to redesign the Coke Light bottle. With Lagerfeld’s bottle, they went further.

Lagerfeld agreed to design a bottle featuring his highly recognizable silhouette. He also designed the ads for the new packaging himself.

Coke decided they needed their own content platform for all this material to “live” in, so they partnered with Yahoo France to create a content platform, The Daily Woman, which became a dedicated online fashion channel.

Targeting women 25 to 39, the site’s production values are as high as anything you’d expect from a “real” online fashion magazine. At launch, all content was surrounded by Coke Light skins reflecting Lagerfeld’s aesthetic.

Integrating Advertising Into Immersive Experiences

Advertising? Advertorial? Branded Entertainment? Tough to say, exactly — but it’s certainly a form of converged media.

Many major brands have long used advertising to drive target audiences into deeper brand experiences through immersive content. Think American Express’ Seinfeld-Superman campaign, or Microsoft’s teaming the same comedian with then-CEO Bill Gates. Both campaigns were notable for media buys intended to drive viewers online for deeper content and richer messaging.

Another example is Dove’s Calming Night campaign. Targeted at moms, the goal was to get women to change their skincare regimen and begin taking a shower at night rather than in the hectic morning.

Print ads in entertainment magazines and network TV spots encouraged women to go online to tune into the “real” campaign: webisodes, or online mini-movies. In each, the leading character uses the Calming Night product following a stressful parenting situation, which results in a revitalizing sleep and pleasant dreams.

Mothers watched over 46,000 hours of Dove’s webisodes, with over five million page views of all the content and sponsored areas. A million product samples were requested and delivered.

Online Content Calling On Hollywood

The webisodes were directed by Penny Marshall and featured Hollywood talent, a tactic also adopted by BMW in one of the first successful online webisode campaigns, “The Hire.” The company engaged eight top directors: John Frankenheimer, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, Guy Ritchie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Woo, Joe Carnahan and Tony Scott who each directed a short film featuring a BMW being put through its moves in a loose narrative scenario.

The series proved so popular a DVD was issued. During the first year of the campaign, BMW sales rose 12 percent over the previous year. The movies were viewed over 11 million times in four months. Two million people registered with the website and a large majority of users who had registered on the site sent film links to friends and family.

Another successful example of webisodes is “Easy to Assemble,” Ikea’s series featuring actress Illeana Douglas as a fictionalized version of herself who quits acting and gets a job at the store.

Another content marketing tactic strongly linked with content marketing is telling the “making of” backstory of the production of a commercial spot, particularly on that’s very popular or technically sophisticated.

Old Spice had an extraordinarily successful campaign, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” YouTube features the spots themselves, but these “making of” short films are garnering up to a million views on the channel, as well as mentions in blogs and news stories. Toyota has done much the same thing with making of videos for its Prius Harmony spot, as had shoemaker Adidas.

Advertising actually becomes content on YouTube and other online video destinations. Brands that invest millions of dollars in Super Bowl campaigns can attract millions of additional viewers — at no additional media cost — by making those spots available for tune-in whenever viewers want to revisit them. Other cool ads such as Sony Bravia’s bouncing balls or Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” series have garnered millions of views online — at zero media spend.

Video isn’t, of course, the only way to combine advertising with content marketing. A stunning recent example of a really great story, couple with a really minimal media buy, comes for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Federal agencies are rarely accorded lavish media budgets, but a healthy does of creativity and imagination got the CDC’s message about emergency preparedness across in a very big way.

Using Zombies To Reach Younger Audiences

The value proposition: how to survive a zombie apocalypse.

The “ads” for the campaign were nothing more than small units users can add to their web sites, Facebook pages, etc. Ads yes, but zero media cost. Content told the story, and a blog post got it “out there.”

In May, 2011 author Ali S. Khan asked the question on the CDC blog, “Where do zombies come from and why do they love eating brains so much?” The post went on to imagine that “zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder – How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”

That’s where the CDC got to drive home the message about stockpiling adequate food and water, determining a meeting site for family members, having important papers and documents collected and ready to go, etc. It’s a punch list of items that apply as much to a zombie apocalypse as, say, a pandemic. Or a flood, or an earthquake. In fact, the CDC timed the post to coincide with the beginning of the hurricane season.

Did it work? A CDC spokesperson said the organization gets an average 1,000 to 3,000 visits to a web post. Prior to the zombie post, its most successful blog post saw about 10,000 visits. When the zombie apocalypse post went up, 60,000 visits brought down the organization’s servers. The campaign was a trending topic on Twitter, appeared on major blogs and in nationally syndicated news stories. In other words, it was amplified by a tremendous earned media surge.

According to the CDC, the campaign was designed to reach a young, media-savvy demographic that the agency had not previously been able to capture. Which this did. Someone at the CDC obviously has (ahem) brains.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from where advertising leaves off and content marketing begins it’s that the content dimension goes deeper. It tells stories. It offers more information, entertainment, education. Rather than be limiting to a square, or a rectangle, or a mere 30 or 60 seconds, the content component to an advertising campaign offers an audience the opportunity to voluntarily do more.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content Marketing | Content Marketing | Content Marketing Column

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About The Author: is an analyst at the Altimeter Group where she covers digital advertising and marketing. A consultant, author, and sought-after speaker, Rebecca is the former head of Econsultancy's US operations. She was VP and editor-in-chief of The ClickZ Network for over seven years. For a portion of that time, Rebecca also ran Search Engine Watch.



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