Content-marketing must not be a straw man

‘Content marketing is ruining the web. Its decline will be poetic justice.’ So rings the headline for a recent article by JR Hennessy in the Guardian. And Hennessy should know: ‘ I feed the content marketing web at a social media agency, making sure you only see what brands want you to see.’

What follows this opening gambit is a series of moves designed to place the content-marketing industry in check. I’ll save you from them, but Hennessy’s central argument, and fallacy, is revealed here:

This bizarre idea – that web audiences might like to read something relevant and interesting rather than have a brand message forced into their eyes – is anathema to the content marketer.

Spot the straw man? There may be plenty of content marketers who indeed inject their content with brand messages, but they wouldn’t be very good at their chosen career.

As this response – by Jonathan Crossfield – in the comments section to Hennessy’s article suggests:

The good thing about content marketing is that it’s the reader’s decision to seek it out and read it. There’s no forcing of hands through digital trickery, no broadcasting a self-serving brand message to a passive audience, no attempt to turn everything into a thinly-veiled pitch. People aren’t stupid. They’re more likely to trust and follow a brand that doesn’t treat them so. Give them what they want and let them make up their own mind.

If reading this comment puts in mind John Oliver’s recent diatribe on native advertising, it wouldn’t be a surprise. To remind you, Oliver’s bête noire is news organisations placing sponsored content on their sites with little regard for separation of church and state. This content walks and talks like genuine editorial, yet really is the editorial chimera born from a commercial intersest. To use Oliver’s example, the New York Times recently ran an article – sponsored by Chevron, no less – about the world’s changing energy needs. Church and state?

Content-marketing author and founder of the Content Marketing Institute Joe Pulizzi gallantly suggests three fixes for native advertising. These fixes may be valid, but the content marketing world needs to disassociate itself from native advertising. And if Hennessy’s view of the industry is the norm, that move couldn’t come fast enough.

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