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This Week in Content Marketing: Storytelling, Steroids, and the Southern Pacific

this old marketing logoPNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In this episode, Robert and I offer constructive advice on ways to address the issues raised in John Oliver’s recent diatribe on native advertising. In addition, we cover content marketing’s use by venture capitalists, Demand Media’s poor quarterly report, and Budweiser’s “Whatever USA” program. We also offer rants and raves on the NFL and, and cap off the week with a This Old Marketing example from the Southern Pacific Railroad.

This week’s show

(Recorded live on August 10, 2014; Length: 59:56)

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1. Content Marketing in the News

  • Countering John Oliver’s Attack on Native Advertising (5:19): Several days ago, I published a post on LinkedIn that outlines three ways publishers need to improve their native advertising game, which HBO talk show host John Oliver recently blasted on Last Week Tonight. Robert feels strongly that the biggest problem with native advertising is poor editorial quality, while I express my disbelief that the majority of publishers are still overwhelmingly focused on ad sales when there are plenty of other ways to monetize content.
  • Top VC Firms Connect With Entrepreneurs Through Storytelling (23:09): According to an article on The Next Web, venture capitalists are starting to use storytelling to reach and educate entrepreneurs. Increasingly, they’re seeing that producing quality content is a powerful way to differentiate their knowledge and expertise from that of the competition. Robert and I discuss why content is critical to service businesses and cover several interesting examples of firms that are doing it well.
  • Demand Media Inc. Revenues Continue to Decline (29:15): Demand Media reported a lower-than-expected second-quarter loss, due to continuing declines in content and advertising revenue. I share my thoughts on why the “how-to” website company is struggling and the critical aspect of content that’s missing from the properties it owns. At the same time, Robert sees an opportunity for Demand Media to reverse its fortunes, and describes an approach that would benefit both its bottom line and major brands.
  • Did Budweiser Create “Content Marketing on Steroids”? (36:21): Bud Light’s new ad campaign is currently soliciting millennials to audition for an invitation to “Whatever USA” — an epic, celebrity-filled weekend party in a fictitious town. Bud Light Brand Director David Daniels describes this contest as “content marketing on steroids.” But is it really content marketing? Robert calls it “a clever marketing campaign on Viagra,” while I talk about what it could become, if Budweiser were open to taking a longer-term, strategic look at it.

2. Sponsor (42:40)

  • This week, This Old Marketing is being sponsored by Smartling. A multilingual website is your gateway to the global marketplace. But being truly multilingual isn’t just about translated content. It’s also about providing visitors with an authentic and transparent user experience. Smartling has published a white paper entitled, Creating an Optimal User Experience for Global Website Visitors, that contains best practices for companies that are building a global brand across multiple languages. You can download it at

smartling white paper cover

3. Rants and Raves (45:07)

  • Robert’s Rant: Last weekend,during the San Francisco 49ers/Baltimore Ravens preseason NFL football game, a large ad for Toyota appeared to be superimposed over the field whenever either team was in the Red Zone — between the 20-yard line and the end zone. According to this article from Business Insider, Toyota is now the “exclusive auto partner” of the ‘Niners as part of a multimillion dollar deal. Robert found it to be extraordinarily distracting — and an excellent example of ugly, intrusive marketing.
  • Joe’s Rave: If you have published a book or an eBook, you really need to look into selling an audio version of it via For my book, Epic Content Marketing, I get 70 percent of the revenues generated, which has turned out to be far more lucrative than book sales (typically, 15 percent of revenue). In my rave, I share what I’ve learned from this experience and recommend a pricing strategy that should be successful for nearly any author or brand.

5. This Old Marketing Example of the Week (53:22)

  • Southern Pacific Railroad: Sunset Magazine, first published by the Southern Pacific Transportation Company in 1898, was named after its flagship passenger train. Sunset’s goal was to combat the negative “Wild West” stereotypes about California, and to encourage tourists who were coming west to stay in the Golden State. Within a year of its launch, it had more than 15,000 subscribers; within 10 years, it had over 500,000 readers every month. Southern Pacific also had an entire department called the Literary Bureau, which produced publications to promote resorts and other attractions along its routes. In addition, it held events extolling the American West and how awesome it was to live there. The common goal of all these initiatives? To create more customers for the railroad’s renowned passenger trains. You can learn more about the company’s surprising influence in the growth and development of the western U.S. in this fascinating book: Sunset Limited: The Southern Pacific Railroad and the Development of the American West, 1850-1930 by Richard Orsi.

cowboy on horse with lasso

For a full list of the PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

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