A Tale of Two Content Marketing Punts: What’s The Takeaway?

on June 11, 2015


In her first post for the new Theorem digital issues discussion space, the firm’s director of marketing Lisa Meyer reflects on learnings from two recent but very contrasting content marketing endeavors.

In the area of content marketing, a great way to think about where today’s marketing efforts are headed is to look at two examples of campaigns – one of which is generally taken to be a success, and the other one, the opposite.

Let’s start with the success story.

Have you been tracking the positive things going on over at McDonald’s Canada (Link)? There are a lot of good vibes in the social media about this brand, and I can see why. The company put some hard effort and extensive creativity into opening up a conversation with customers on certain cross-channel marketing powered with analytics for deeper insights potentially tricky topics: You probably already know the urban legend about the imperishable Big Mac, that kind of thing. Well, the company took all that stuff on and has got some great assets on its YouTube channel and elsewhere about the provenance of its food and the state of its supply chain.

The company’s bravery and imagination are getting some well-deserved kudos here; the work’s delivered some strongly positive publicity; it’s seen as a case study on how to do content marketing well; and it’s definitely got some personality and flavor. I like it a lot. If you’re unfamiliar, a great piece sums it up well at (Link).

And, I’m sorry to have to acknowledge some content marketing work that’s not so well regarded. Not because the idea wasn’t good. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty started awesomely well some years ago, when the brand asked us to step back from simplistic expectations about feminine appearance in a way that was refreshing, “real,” and authentic. And many people did feel they’d become genuinely empowered by the message. But the company doesn’t seem to have been able to resist the urge to mess with its work here—in a way a lot of social media mavens have started to call it on. What I’m referring to is Dove’s concerted efforts to comment and post in response to self-critical online remarks by women saying the posters are not ugly or whatever—as if the mysterious person behind the social curtain is a real friend.

Many of those who work either in or outside the field of digital marketing think that that’s crossing the line. Ultimately, this isn’t a public service announcement, after all. Folks know you’re trying to sell us stuff here, Dove! What they’re doing is not authentic engagement. The general consensus is that a really strong initial idea lost its way by trying too hard to be “social” and to move a so-called conversation to interactive mode. Again, if you’re not caught up on this one, here’s a primer (Link).

I’ve given you two contrasting examples, then, of how content marketing is evolving. Success or not, these are both brave companies with solid content platforms. I wish I could say there was a guidebook on how to do it right, on how brands can copy the good bits and avoid the mistakes. The problem is I just don’t have the answer. And I don’t think anyone else does, either.

What we do know is that content marketing can’t be separated from other kinds of marketing initiatives. It is a growing face of brand identity in our connected, digital age. And because we’re all learning here—even those getting it right—there’s no algorithm—yet. It’s still heuristic. The reality is that content marketing is hard. It’s pervasive. It’s evolving. It’s a movable feast—and a moving target.

So, be open to experimentation. Be a risk taker even though it might mean an occasional misstep.

The takeaway for me—and, I think, for you, the practitioner out in the market—from the McDonald’s Canada–Dove comparison is that we’re going to make some mistakes and we’re going to have to accept a few bruised knees and burned fingers doing it. We need to be brave, take some risks, and get a few experiments to learn from.

But what none of us can do is do nothing. Content marketing is here to stay, and we have to start learning what its real nature actually is and how to blend content into our overall approaches to marketing. How we establish a different kind of brand voice…a voice that may have a personality.

I think that’s going to be fun. But don’t believe anyone who tells you we have a foolproof way of doing it yet.

Kara DegeorgisA Tale of Two Content Marketing Punts: What’s The Takeaway?

Join the conversation