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Clever Advertising or Content Marketing?

oreo daily twist
Oreo Daily Twist

A few weeks back, I sat through a “content marketing” presentation, where the presenter showed a number of case studies and talked about how the brands were leveraging the power of content marketing to grow their businesses.

Unfortunately, none of the examples were actually content marketing.

CMI’s Chief Strategist Robert Rose calls these so-called examples “clever advertising.” In short, many still view content marketing as the Old Spice-style viral campaigns that are fueled by traditional media.

What content marketing really is

To qualify as content marketing, a program needs to:

  1. Be focused on attracting or retaining a targeted customer audience
  2. Share compelling, useful, and/or entertaining information
  3. Be consistently delivered.

If we deconstruct these three tenets just a bit, we start to see some patterns that distinguish the art and science of content marketing from other advertising and marketing efforts.

1. When we focus on attracting or retaining a targeted customer audience, some key concepts emerge:

  • Customers or prospects subscribe to our content through email, social, or print channels, allowing us to have an ongoing conversation with them.
  • This means subscription is the key weapon of choice for most content marketers.
  • We should not be trying to boil the ocean: Though we may have developed multiple buyer personas, a content marketing effort is most likely targeted to one strictly defined persona.
  • Goals revolve around demand generation, guiding the buyer through the purchasing process to the desired destination of customer retention and loyalty.

2. When we focus on developing compelling and useful content for our content marketing program, these key concepts emerge:

  • Content is most likely not about our products and services; rather, it is focused on information that addresses the pain points of buyers.
  • When possible, content should be entertaining in some way.
  • In many cases, the content helps customers or prospects accomplish a desired task (much like a traditional media company would do).

3. When we focus on consistently delivering the content, these key concepts emerge:

  • Content is not a one-time or campaign initiative (note: If you hear someone say “content marketing campaign,” it’s probably not content marketing).
  • Content is repeatedly delivered at reliable intervals, through a consistent channel (although it can be leveraged through additional channels, as well).

Let’s look at some examples. For each one, ask yourself if it’s really content marketing, or just a clever advertising campaign?

Dollar Shave Club’s viral video

With more than 10 million views on YouTube, Dollar Shave Club’s amazingly funny video has often been referred to as an example of content marketing:

Content marketing effort, or clever advertising campaign? In and of itself, this video is a clever advertising campaign. Why?

  • There’s no real subscription program (for the content, that is, not the razors).
  • It’s heavily focused on the brand’s core product.
  • It’s a one-time campaign effort.

Oreo Daily Twist

In celebration of its 100th anniversary, Oreo shared an original, Oreo-centric image each day (for 100 days) that marked that particular day in history. Examples included the Mars Rover Landing, Elvis Week, and Gay Pride Day. According to reports from Oreo, sales surged 25 percent, with most of the credit going to this campaign.

Content marketing effort, or clever advertising campaign? Again, the correct answer here is clever advertising. Why?

  • The campaign launched with a built-in stop date.
  • It’s heavily focused on the brand’s core product.

AMEX Open Forum

AMEX Open Forum is an educational resource for small businesses that provides operational, financial, and marketing advice. According to AMEX, the site has driven as many credit card inquiries as any other traditional marketing effort it has executed.

amex open forum

Content marketing effort, or clever advertising campaign? This one is true content marketing. Why?

  • Ninety-nine percent of the content created is not about AMEX.
  • The program has consistently delivered information every day since 2008.
  • It has kept its associated subscription program (membership to site) in play.

ShipServ Pages: The Movie

ShipServ is an electronic marketplace where buyers and sellers in the shipping industry can connect. Many marketing sites have cited ShipServ’s LEGO-based movie as a grand example of content marketing:

Content marketing effort or clever advertising campaign? That’s right, once again, it’s clever advertising. Why?

  • It’s a product pitch (though they do get extra points for incorporating the LEGO brand).
  • It’s a one-time initiative.
  • The content is not part of an ongoing subscription program.

That said, ShipServ produces and delivers an excellent video series that features its executives interviewing customers that is a content marketing effort.

One more thing

When marketers ask me why most content marketing programs fail, or tell me why they aren’t really doing content marketing, there is usually one reason (the biggest reason of all): They stopped. Most marketers still think of content as a one-time campaign, or short burst of speed.  This is not, and never will be, content marketing.

If you want short bursts of speed and attention, clever and paid advertising campaigns are the way to go. But if you are looking for better customers over the long term, consider investing in a scalable content process. Content marketing is a marathon, not a short sprint.

Have you seen any efforts that have made you question whether they are content marketing or not? If so, let us know in the comments, and we’d be happy to review them with you.

Joe Pulizzi’s latest book, “Epic Content Marketing,” will be released in September 2013. Preorder it now on