January 19th, 2011
catherineadavis

Content and Advertising: Less different than you think


Lots has been written recently about the differences between advertising and branded content. Some common points of view include:  While advertising is intrusive, content is actively sought out. Advertising is driven by what the company wants, while content is driven by what the consumer wants.  Advertising tries to sell, while content tries to solve a problem. 

I think this is an oversimplification.  I can’t argue that there is far too much unimpressive advertising out there, but I believe the demands of good content creation and good advertising have a lot in common.  The execution and the channels are different and each has a unique role to play, but the principles should be the same.  

  1. Solve a customer’s problem.  While social media allows a brand to drill down to a single customer issue, good advertising solves an issue that is shared by many. Consider these examples. A brand can make waking up in the morning more pleasant (Folgers), help you find your favorite movies (Logitech), or improve your running performance (Nike). All brand messages are more successful when they reflect the needs of the people they serve.     
  2. Deliver a customer benefit.  Each of the brands referenced above, deliver a benefit that is relevant to a specific set of customers.  This benefit can take many forms.  Nike can inspire me with professional athletes who embody performance or allow me to virtually compete in races through The Human Race. Each can impact my motivation and performance.
  3. Establish credibility. I need to know what Nike stands for before I trust them to help me improve performance.  I have to believe that Folgers tastes good before they get a seat at my breakfast table.  Folgers can do that with an article on making the perfect cup of coffee or by showing the Folger’s coffee experience in TV spots that have become classics.  Both messages reinforce the brand’s ability to create an anticipated morning ritual.     
  4. Be well-branded. This is less about when we first mention the brand and more about finding a tight strategic link. But that said, who is providing the information needs to be clear and transparent.  Whatever the format, consumers need to remember the brand for it to be successful.
  5. Worth watching or reading.  Great advertising has always aspired to be entertaining, humorous, touching, surprising, educational, awe inspiring, or part of popular culture. For me, Logitech’s new ads with Kevin Bacon deliver against multiple dimensions ensuring they get watched and remembered. These ads also deliver on best practices #1-4. (More in an earlier post). 


Advertising and branded content both have a role to play in creating an ongoing relationship with a brand.  Advertising provides context, while content can take it to a more personal level. The real win is to figure out how to make them work so they are additive vs. independent channels.

Image:  Facebook

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