Category Archives: Native advertising

The Best-Ever Publishing Festival Line Up

PPA-festival-line-upI’m producer of the two big content streams at this year’s PPA festival, where along with CEO Barry McIlheney and his team we’ve put together the most fantastic line-up. Four stages, 60 speakers, CEO’s, MD’s Facebook, Google and…Mushpit!

The festival is Thursday May 12th, there’s still a few tickets left, buy them here.

Fifteen hot links

20120826-Moncton_SetlistHandwritten1. This is one of Springsteen’s many back-of-an-envelope set lists, emotional, personal, and totally uneditable. So here’s my post for InPublishing on Wunderlist, the world’s best make-a-list app.

2. What do you believe in? And what are you going to do about it? Good post about how brands create trust.

3. ‘Sticky content’ bullshit. And ten other content marketing buzzwords from SXSW.

4. Seventy eight places to find free, high quality marketing images.

5. Ace photojournalist Giles Duley is setting off on his biggest project ever. Here’s an interview with him at Time all about ‘Legacy of War’

6. How Marriott Hotels aim to become the world’s largest producer of travel content.

7. Look out! How programatic trading allowed these ads to run before ISIS propaganda videos.

8. Super bitchy, and super well informed. Michael Wolff on the new Guardian editor.

9. Buzzfeed really is the new king of the world. Here’s fine insight into how that happened, along with more detail on their social strategybusiness model, ethical standards and The Dress.

10. How the Economist has stayed ahead of the digital curve.

11. Here’s a blog post headline writing template!

12. Uber releases an in-house magazine.

13. Upworthy’s co-founder on clickbait.

14. Haters ahoy! Wired redesigns its website.

15. Good post on magculture about the surge in magazine podcasts.

How to produce pointless stories, devoid of meaningful value or engagement

packed-office-desksIn an extensive interview last week the legendary marketer Seth Godin lamented the ‘industrialisation of content’. He said: ‘As soon as organisations start to measure stuff and poke it into a piece of software, then we are asking people who don’t care to work their way through a bunch of checklists to make a number go up’.

He’s making the argument for editors, as opposed to brand managers. ‘A brand can’t care’ says Seth, ‘all that can care is people.

seth-godinSeth is famous for his book ‘Permission Marketing’, still regarded as the key text on how to engage consumers online. Here’s his definition: ‘Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them’

Seth’s view now is that ‘being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business’. If you’re paying for content, then trust is acknowledged the moment money changes hands. But as I’ve written previously, when content is essentially free, trust has to be earned.

Because without it, we’re just looking at spam.

With the decline of one-way advertising as the only way to reach and influence large audiences, marketers and ad agencies are now trying to take ‘content’ and see if that will do the job for them.

However, as Saatchi’s strategy director Richard Huntingdon points out in his recent ‘Guano Marketing’ post, content is now being ‘ordered by the yard, with quality of no consequence’.

In a fabulously ranty post he declares: ‘Never in the field of human endeavour has so much crap sat on client servers to be consumed by so few’.

crap-contentEven content marketers themselves say similar, witness this slideshare from Velocity simply entitled ‘Crap’.

I quite agree. The term ‘content’ has had all the joy flattened out of it, crushed by the need for a single description to describe ideas of every kind shared across every platform.

But let’s not shoot the messenger here. The word may be totally inadequate, but that doesn’t mean the passion, authority, service and sheer fun of the exchanges behind it are redundant.

The opposite is in fact the case. Our society may have been founded on storytelling, but right now, our appetite for powerful ideas, inspiring  images, big thoughts, true feelings and passionate opinions has never been greater.

With the reluctance of people to pay directly for magazines and newspapers, the word ‘editorial’ has fallen out of favour in recent years.

You only have to visit linkedin to see how many journalists have rushed to replace it with ‘content’ in order to stress their digital credentials. I make no apology for doing the same, currently there being no better way of saying ‘I present stories to be shared digitally’.

The question is, what exactly are we sharing?

If it’s a genuine point of view, delivered in a relatable tone, with ideas that add value, either practically, or on a deeper emotional level, then readers will react.

They still need to know who’s doing the talking, as ‘editorial’ is explicitly the voice of the storyteller, not the paymaster. But if clarity around brand is maintained, then real connections will be made, real feeling will be created and real action taken.

howard-gossageAs for advertising, the words of Howard Gossage, the original Mad Man still hold true: ‘People will read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad’.

 

Is Your Content Going Down The Toilet? Here Are Three Things You Can do About it

clickbait-logoCrap. That’s the word that begins content marketing agency Velocity’s slideshare, now downloaded over half a million times. Their argument is that so much content is now being produced by marketers, social media agencies, production companies and PR’s that it’s inevitable we’re all going to drown in a flood of content that’s just plain rubbish. (Brilliantly skewered by Clickhole, logo above)

It’s a good looking dek, but at the end, when I was expecting there to be an antidote to this tide of garbage swilling around my ankles, I discovered that their answer was… ‘Raise your game’.

So what does this platitude actually mean? It’s an important question, because unless we work it out, trust in journalism, publishing and the brands we serve will just melt away. And without trust we have nothing.

Storytelling may be the basis of human experience, but it means diddly-squit if the source is untrustworthy. See more

Five must-see, must-read links

vogue-2014-september-issuePrint not dead etc. Here’s the 856 page September issue from Vogue. Image from Arem Duplessis.

A stunning analysis from New York magazine of how Time Inc got into its current situation. So well reported you get the idea that they were in the room. And for the really keen, here’s Pando Daily’s analysis of the analysis.

Minimum Viable Personality. A brilliant explanation to why trust is the only thing that matters in any content strategy. Thanks to Andy P. for the link

Editorial will eat itself: discuss. Here’s Michael Brenner, content marketing ‘guru’ explaining ‘how brands can remain human when native and ad-tech collide’.

More shouting about native advertising over at Digiday

My interview with Wyatt Mitchell, the Creative Director of The New Yorker

wyatt-mitchell-talkWyatt is going to be speaking at Magfest 2014, the Scottish PPA’s eagerly awaited conference on September 5th. He’s The New Yorker‘s first ever Creative Director, as well as having a storied CV behind him, with roles at Wired, Vibe, Esquire, Oprah Magazine and TV Guide.

Here’s an exclusive podcast interview I did with him last week for the Scottish PPA. Wyatt talks about redesigns, digital innovation, native advertising and what it’s like to work inside one of the world’s greatest media brands, all fascinating and at times totally unexpected revelations.

In other news, I’m also on the bill for Magfest, where aside from buying Wyatt a drink, I’ll be talking about how to build trust in media. More on that later …

Five must-see, must-read links

Five-must-readsThe New Yorker re-launches it’s website, claiming to bring all their sensibilites to the web, but at warp speed. Great post, thanks to @magcuture for the tip.

David Carr: ‘I’m not so much a digital native as a digital casualty’ Great writing by @carr2n in The New York Times. If you’re really keen, here’s another, even better piece by him on what it is to be a journalist today.

This chap has designed over 600 world class book jackets. Here’s how he does it.

Jeff Jarvis on how Forbes native advertising strategy has devalued his view of the brand.

Superb analysis of the new Airbnb logo.

How do you compete with a billion dollar logo?

buzzfeed-voxThis post was first published on The Media Briefing earlier this week.

Buzzfeed is now considered one of the world’s most innovative news organisation. It’s value is currently over $1b, getting close to the likes of The New York Times ($1.28b), and dwarfing other digital news sites. So it’s no surprise that more start-ups are wanting a slice of the pie.

American news site Vox is early out of the blocks, launched just three months after founder Ezra Klein left the Washington Post. He claims that Vox will ‘Explain the world’ but the site is already creating a stir, as evidenced by last weeks rant from a senior Facebook executive complaining that ‘Someone should fix this shit’

He was referring to Vox’s story about how you should ‘Wash your jeans instead of freezing them’, with the complaint was that they were not delivering  ‘A new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native’.

When it comes to content, you have to make your intentions very clear. Which is why design is central to a users understanding of what to expect. Can Vox persuade readers that it’s a real heavyweight political commentator? Can Buzzfeed change horses midstream and let us believe that they too should be taken seriously?

In short, what does the design of these two sites say about trust?

The logo fonts are fundamentally different. Buzzfeed’s is a functional sans, with an almost child-like feel created by the big lowercase ‘ee’. By contrast, Vox’s serif ‘V’ on their twitter icon is huge, and when spelt out has a sophisticated flourish. It feels high end, a bit like The Atlantic, redesigned by Pentagram not so long ago.

Newspaper-logosLikewise the colour means very different things. Not for nothing are serious newspaper logos black, and tabloids white out of red blocks. This visual language is impossible to deny: red means urgency, black is just inert. It has no opinion. (Although Stern have managed to have their cake and eat). But what does yellow mean in this equation?

Buzzfeed has built both traffic and reputation on spectacular viral techniques, listicles, cat videos, engaging headlines and their killer franchise, the online quiz, proving that content most people are interested in are stories about themselves.

But now they now want to do serious journalism. Reuters reports that they have boots on the ground in Ukraine, are publishing in-depth articles on Chinese dissenters and have had some big, breakout stories. But can Buzzfeed ever be regarded as a serious news site, when their key visual signature looks like this…

Buzzfeed-Logo-lolOr more precisely, LOL, in black type within a yellow circle.

The use of yellow has vexed media designers ever since CMYK was invented. It’s the brightest colour, but has the lowest tonal value, which means it has the highest level of visual cut-through.

US-small-coversNowhere is this more apparent than on a magazine newsstand, where yellow is the number one technique for getting a headline to stand out. For some brands, relying on yellow can cause real problems, as illustrated by the case of People, the world’s biggest and most profitable magazine brand. It costs a dollar more than most rivals, but because the whole category rely on yellow headlines, People looks cheap by association.

Moreover, in the world at large, yellow is often used to deliver marketing messages and price tags, which has taught us that when we see yellow, we’re being sold to.

Buzzfeed-desktop-homeIt all comes down to how it’s used. Like a celebrity news magazine, Buzzfeed, use bright yellow to draw our attention to comments, or small pieces of content that we may otherwise overlook.

It’s effective, but combined with a red logo, lemon tint panels and bright blue headlines, the combination of these colours creates a tabloid environment more akin to a Screwfix catalogue, than a premium destination for serious journalism.

Buzzfeed-mobile-articleAlthough to be fair, at the far more important mobile article level, the presentation is cooler, with the colour focused on social sharing buttons.

Grazia-magazineVox have taken a different tack. By making yellow the only colour, they’ve managed to retain it’s effectiveness, but without tarnishing it’s delivery. This is exactly what Grazia did in the magazine market. By using no colour other than yellow, the pallette looked like a fashion statement, and made the rest of the weekly market’s use of red obsolete overnight.

Vox--desktop-articleVox then go further by teaming yellow with grey, delivering a sense of sober authority. And in an unexpected twist, instead of black headlines, Vox use a very dark grey. When I first saw this in the ‘V’ of their twitter icon, I though it was an error, but this approach is consistently deployed in many places all through the site, particularly on mobile. The content can look pale and washed out, but it does prevent the words looking like sales messages.

Vox-mobile-HOMELinks are understated too, with a cool grey-blue, as opposed to Buzzfeed’s more eye-popping style.

Typographically, Vox has a cultured approach to their content. As any fule kno, there are only two fonts in the world, plain and fancy. Vox use both, with italic serif call-outs, traditional gothic headlines and modern sans text fonts. The feeling is sophisticated, although the small sizes create a somewhat pale reading experience.

Buzzfeed’s headlines and text are primarily in the highly legible and good-looking Proxima Nova. But with bits of Helvetica and other random fonts creeping in, there is a slight low-fi feeling and a lack of brand consistency.

Like Buzzfeed, Vox’s appeal is driven by virality of the headlines. Here’s a super-snarky story from Forbes, attempting to dismantle the thinking behind headlines such as ‘The Simpsons predicted the Ukraine crisis back in 1998’

VOX-desktop-homepageBut Vox are also using content curation as a way of building a content mix, as this homepage shows. Here, they pair a super-dull Russia and China story (good for credibility) alongside an orgasm story (good for clicks). Overall, I sense the desire to have a slice of Vice’s now very substantial content marketing pie.

Buzzfeed-mobile-HOMEBy comparison, even on mobile Buzzfeed go flat out for volume. Everything’s turned up to eleven, all of it looks fun, but there’s not a serious item in sight. And in the American style, deploy the hyped up tone of capping up every word in a headline: ‘A Naked Woman Has Made The Alphabet Out Of Human Hair’

Vox use a more measured upper and lower-case European approach: ‘How conspiracy theories explain political parties’. This typographic technique has less urgency, but a lot more conversational intimacy. And would certainly be preferred by Buzzfeed’s UK editors.

Overall, the Vox design direction is somewhat dull. But it’s undeniably modern, with yellow keeping the site just inside the pop culture canon. From a business point of view, they have set out to claim the journalistic high ground, and go viral from there. Buzzfeed are attempting world domination the other way round, by taking the lowland masses first, and then attempting to scale the higher peaks.

vox-native-advertising

Like Buzzfeed, Vox’s business model is based on ‘native advertising’ or any other term used to describe ads that look like a bit like editorial. However, unlike Buzzfeed, it’s really hard to see which posts are ‘sponsored’, and which are not.

Political authority and influence may be the motivation behind the site, but aside from the click-bait headlines it’s hard to detect any real sense of tone in the content.

Unlike established news sites, I don’t yet know what Vox believe in, other than an enthusiasm for Obama Care. We may be conditioned to it, but when it comes to politics, readers need to know what the brand believes in order to work out the true colour behind the journalism.

This is a problem Buzzfeed just don’t have. What you see really is what you get. It’s not pretending to be cool, there’s no attempt to seduce with the presentation. Which makes me trust them all the more.

The right rail is history. MPU’s are finished. The New York Times has chucked them out, so it must be true.

The New York Times website has just re-designed, the big news being  that with 700,000 paying subscribers, the brand feels confident enough to reduce reliance on display advertising, and concentrate instead on sponsored content. There’s been tons of comment on this, notably at Business Insider, from where I pinched the screen grabs below.

The fact of the matter, is that we’ve taught everyone that what happens in the ‘right rail’ is commercial nonsense and of no consequence. So no-body looks at it. (Although I would like to direct coverthinkers to my own right right rail, just over …there).

This screen grab shows the same story, but now with content extended across the full site width. In addition, they’ve also cleared out a load of clutter and replaced it with, shock horror, white space!

There are now dedicated areas for sponsored content, or ‘paid posts’ as the NYT likes to call them. This is best explained at Ad Age, where there are good details of  extraordinary lengths the Times is going to in order to make clear the distinction between this content and NYT editorial. Ad Age says that sponsored content will be visible through their own site search, but when I looked for this Dell article about millenials shunning the office, I couldn’t find it.

Many commentators like the new site, but like me, are frustrated by the lack of change on the homepage. Most readers may well land on an article page, but as a marketing opportunity, making a bigger move here would really help consolidate the gains elsewhere.

CNN make the bold claim that this redesign is the future of publishing. That may, or may not be true. But what is a fact is that sponsored content is here to stay, it’s just a question of how publishers can manage the fine balance with church and state. I’m grateful to David Bostock from Bauer, who has tweeted this excellent link on the 12 different ways publishers explain native advertising to their readers. And here’s the excellent Emily Bell, with her observations on the transparency of sponsored content in The Guardian.

In America, Hearst have made great strides with branded content under ex SAY Media boss Troy Young, who has just hired my old Conde Nast Mademoiselle colleague Kate Lewis as VP of content and editorial director. My suspicion is, that with her superb CV as guardian of editorial excellence, one of her biggest jobs will be to keep skittish editors in line.