Paid, Owned and Earned Media All Influence The Story, Whatever The Story May Be

“The insidious power of brand content” is a strange headline for an article in The Guardian. Nevertheless, the article exists and its writer, Frédéric Filloux, takes unnecessary issue with the growing popularity of content marketing.

Brand content is the advertiser’s dream come true. The downfall of the print press has opened floodgates: publishers become less and less scrupulous in their blurring of the line between editorial and promotion – which is precisely what ad agencies always shoot for.

As brands tend to become full-blown media, the public will get confused. Sooner or later, it will be difficult to distinguish between a genuine, editorially-driven prime-time TV show and another one sponsored by an advertiser.

I do get a small thrill from seeing journalists struggle with the idea that their work is about uncovering the truth and our work is about masking it. It’s not that simple. I understand where Filloux is coming from, much advertising has been deceitful, but much journalism has been and continues to be deceitful too.

For content marketing to work at peak efficiency the brand must be revealed, not concealed. My belief is advertising ought to do the same.

Filloux mentions Dassault Systemes’ “56-minute high-tech festival of solutions” as an example of a corporate film with surprisingly lofty production values.

Does this piece belong on PBS? Maybe. Is the viewing public confused by the French company’s desire to educate around its mission? I don’t think so.

Personally, I don’t see a good reason to lay this burden of trust on content’s doorstep. TV commercials are much more “insidious” to use the Guardian’s word. Have you seen what Chevron and Exxon/Mobile are doing to get every ounce of PR value available to them, via their backing of math and science education in grammar schools?

Now, who is confused? Are these oil companies doing untold damage, or untold good?

It’s a complex world, and media literacy is a skill we need to encourage. Yet, The Guardian is not doing that by perpetuating a worn out idea about who is in the truth telling business, and who is not.

Journalists like Filloux also conveniently forget that they work for a profit-making body, which does impact the raw truth, just like an editor, fact-checker and everyone else involved impacts how a story is delivered to an audience.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.