Commentary

Three Content Marketing Campaigns Gone Bad

I recently attended a content-marketing minisummit in which a bunch of smart-talkers revealed the tricks of the trade to content luddites. Turns out the most effective strategy is to hit the right audience with the right piece of content at the right time via the right channel. No, really, it’s just that simple. This is why your sleepy-time telegrams have failed to forge a holy bond with the consumers you’re hoping will buy your garlic croutons.

The subtext to the content klatch was that everybody except maybe Red Bull and GE is terrible at content marketing, but companies should keep doing it because we live in a content world. Or maybe they meant we live in a content - adjective version - world? Tough to say. By that point, I’d started daydreaming about early exits. Are there fantasy camps in which one can rappel down the sides of glassy office buildings as FBI types bark macho bromides through megaphones? Die Hard shaped my young imagination in many ways, all of them good.

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So let’s talk about three brand-video content marketers that keep finding me, no matter how often I tweak the tracking settings of my phone and computer, and why all three ought to reconsider their approaches. The first of the trio is Pandora Pulse, which appears to be the marketing arm of an online music service I haven’t listened to in half a decade. Like so many corporate nerdlingers, Pandora Pulse left its self-control in the home office when it attended SXSW a few weeks back. Now that it has posted bond and cleared up that misunderstanding with the wait staff at the Taco Shed, it’s eager to share tales of its lost weekend.

Presumably after gobbling down a handful of whatever pill young people take now that old people have heard about Molly, PP took to the streets of Austin to shoot some off-the-hook video. And man, am I glad that it thought to get all up in my grille with highlights. In the clip force-fed to me, Pandora Pulse “gets real” with SXSW marketing dignitaries about selling to Millennials. Much in the same manner that 30-something guidance counselors lay hard truths on high-schoolers trending towards truancy, PP shares advice like, “If you can’t personalize, at best you’ll be ignored and at worst [Millennials] will hate you and they’ll tell their friends they hate you.” Stop the presses, man. In fact, just burn the presses, because Millennials are “about persona segmentation” and would no sooner read a printed item than buy a CD or make eye contact.

Also, what does Pandora Pulse do again? And its salesfolk are putting this accumulated non-obvious wisdom about Millennials to use how, exactly?

Larry-stalking content marketer number two is FreedomMag.org, a multimedia play created by the Church of Scientology to push back against an HBO documentary that debuted on Monday night. Based on the carefully segmented, name-naming-and-shaming mini-movie that serves as the site’s centerpiece, I am guessing that this documentary is unflattering in a way that, say, Some Kind of Monster is not, ornately multihued metal-whisperer sweaters be damned.

The FreedomMag blitz began well in advance of the HBO film’s airing; I heard about it long before I learned about the documentary itself. It’s eye-opening in ways that even the most strident counteroffensives rarely are. Take its assessment of one of the former Scientologists who, presumably, gets a lot of screen time in the HBO flick: the mini-movie reveals a dozen of her pseudonyms, recounts a passage about her promiscuity in a book she wrote and alleges she was expelled from the Church for “violent assaults” and prostitution. It also reproduces nude photos she sent to web pals who responded to her Internet ads for… I guess we’re calling it “companionship” nowadays. Others are characterized and reduced using similarly loaded terminology: “the soulless sellout,” “the raging bully,” etc.

So yeah, the Freedom movie is astonishingly effective at presenting every one of its targets as less-than-credible sources of information about not just Scientology, but anything more involved than a quick two-plus-two calculation. Unfortunately, this frothing vigor works against it. It succeeds less in poisoning me against the people in the HBO doc (and the filmmakers who chose to chronicle their allegations against the Church) than it does in piquing my interest.

Based on the clip’s allegations, I don’t know what could possibly be revealed in the documentary that merits this kind of thermonuclear response... but I kind of have to watch now to find out, don’t I? “Sorry, honey. We can get back to binge-watching Two and a Half Men some other day. Tonight, we’re taking an express train to Smear City.”

Our final wayward content marketer is American Greetings, the patriotic citizen’s cardboard-niceties option to the freedom-haters at Hallmark. Apparently American Greetings is concerned that we’re not adequately expressing our appreciation – to parents, teachers, baristas, whoever. To right this heinous wrong, it has tapped esteemed documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple to catch gracious-minded individuals in the act of thanks-giving, of crossing off names on their “ThankList.”

“Every journey is different. Every connection is powerful,” sez the YouTube blurb for the series trailer. Different AND powerful? Well, I’m sold. If it were just different, that’d be one thing. But add a little power to that different-ness and, well, how can you go wrong?

For starters, by adding inadvertent farce to the mix. It is well documented that I am not a good person, but one of the series’ so-meaningful gestures of appreciation, a soloist dance designed to honor a beloved friend, made me do a spit-take. Again, to admit that makes me come off as culturally and emotionally insensitive, a Bieber in a landscape of Oprahs. But the performance hits like a thunderbolt on a clear day, and feels forced to boot; it’s as if the filmmakers started with the performance, rather than with the deep gratitude that prompted it.

Beyond that, my biggest issues with “ThankList” are the expected lack of connection to the brand – marketers of bumper polish or nanotechnology or sandals could attempt a similar pitch to affirm their basic decency – and the utter, enveloping, stultifying dullness. “He made me a better person… I don’t know if he knows how impactful he was, but he deserves to know… He taught me about compassion for otherszzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m nodding off again just thinking about it. Boring people into submission might be an effective strategy for an oil company or a politician, but American Greetings accomplishes little here that it couldn’t have accomplished in a 30-second spot.

2 comments about "Three Content Marketing Campaigns Gone Bad".
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  1. Mike Plant from Mike Plant & Associates Inc, April 3, 2015 at 1:09 p.m.

    Not trying to sound snide, but there was so much overly cute writing in your piece that the content was pretty much lost in the shuffle. Ironic, considering the topic.

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