In Search Of Authenticity

Content marketing is all the rage these days.  Why not?  Until further notice, Google is directing the greatest number of eyeballs every day, in every way.  Why not build some content that will attract those eyeballs at just the right time?

After my last column posted, one commenter said that marketers would no longer pay up for premium advertising environments -- because they want “engagement,” they’ll use content marketing.  He gave the example of Nike and RedBull, who create content so they no longer need to deliver their ads in “rented” environments. 

And of course “native” advertising is another related concept.  If an advertiser can’t get potential customers to pay attention to his ads, why not disguise it as art or as editorial?

Both content marketing and native advertising are an effort to solve the problem inherent in digital communications technologies: the reader-viewer has so many alternatives, and so much control, that it is really hard for marketers to ram down a commercial message the way they used to on TV and in print.



The trouble is that customers are in hot pursuit of truth and authenticity.  When they find it, they stop, stay, and even pay.  Advertisers will always struggle when they are trying to capture the trust of potential customers by presenting material that’s disguised as editorial but is really a commercial message.  It lacks authenticity.

One digital medium after another has risen to success over the last two decades based on the audience’s belief in its authenticity.  MySpace rocketed to fame and fortune because initially it felt like a forum full of the authentic voices of its very many users.  But then as it became commercialized it began to feel less authentic.  Then along came Facebook, followed by Twitter, followed by Instagram (to mention only a few).  Each zoomed upward in usage because they presented the true voices of their audiences but then iwas challenged to maintain their success when the need to generate revenue demands them to sell promoted posts of various kinds.  They begin to lose their authenticity.

The funny thing is that traditional advertising is authentic.  Traditional print advertising is accepted as a natural part of a magazine or newspaper.  Television ads, too, are authentic.  Viewers know what is what, so they don’t have to have their BS sensors on in the same way they do in some other media. 

Good television and print ads are extremely effective.  The trouble for advertisers is that good print or television ads are hard to create.  They can’t be stamped out in a factory-like setting.  This is very bad for the big advertising holding company specialized-unit-assembly-line business model.   They can create the ads, but they can’t create a high enough proportion of them that are truly engaging.  So they blame the medium and try to find new ways to circumvent it.

If you want to know who the winners and the losers will be in digital media in this new year, evaluate their authenticity.  

It is true that Nike and Redbull, manage to create a sense of authenticity – that’s why they are leaders.  But their competitors only look like imposters when they imitate or try to one-up them.

As publishers we need to be thinking about ways we can help our potential advertisers communicate in authentic ways that don’t diminish our own medium’s trust and authenticity.  The more we can inform our advertising customers about how our audience – their market -- thinks,  and what their needs and aspirations and cares are, the more we can help our customers be successful with their own marketing that rings true.

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