advertising

Millennials Glued to TV as Much as Other Adults

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Contrary to public perception, Millennials consume commercial TV programming as much or more than other adults and favor it over YouTube videos. Millennials forge stronger emotional bonds with programs and actors, which spills over into other digital channels and influences purchasing decisions, according to a report from the Video Advertising Bureau.

Millennials like TV programming, even with advertising, as much or more than other adults. And Millennials have stronger emotional bonds to TV characters than YouTube personalities, according to a 2018 report by the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB).

The common perception is that Millennials have deserted commercial television. The data in the report indicates otherwise, noting Millennials watch TV as much as other adults, just less so on cable. This finding suggests marketers trying to reach Millennials shouldn’t entirely abandon ad-supported TV programming and dump all their advertising on Instagram and YouTube.

VAB’s members are pretty much the who’s who of broadcasting and premium video content. Nevertheless, the takeaways in the report titled, “Exploring Millennials’ Meaningful Relations with TV Programming,” are striking. The topline finds are:

  • Millennials feel a strong bond with TV programming and regularly set aside time to watch their favorite programs, prioritizing it as “me time.”

  • Millennial viewers are actively engaged beyond when TV programs air by sharing and posting video clips, following actors on social media, reading recaps and scouring the web to find behind-the-scenes scoops.

  • Motivated by their attachment to TV shows, Millennials buy products, select travel destinations and dine at restaurants they have seen featured or advertising on TV.

A key underlying theme in the report is that Millennials do more than watch TV; they engage with programs and actors that interest them. The emotion bond they forge carries over to digital platforms such as “liking” a program or actor on Facebook, sharing video clips and tweeting.

Millennials are often the cultural carriers of phrases or memes that originate on TV programs, including dressing up like a favorite character on Halloween. They also serve as the word-of-mouth ambassadors for programs that have appeal for Millennial audiences and are more likely to feel personal connections to favorite TV program actors. Sometimes the attachment is so strong Millennial viewers go through something akin to withdrawal when a season ends. 

The picture of Millennials sitting by themselves staring at their smartphones or tablets isn’t completely accurate either, according to the report. Millennials enjoy the communal dimension of watching favorite TV programs with their friends.

While Millennials consume lots of content on YouTube, the data from the VAB report indicates they enjoy live TV programming, despite advertising, significantly more (40 percent to 29 percent).

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

The Video Advertising Bureau report shows Millennials can be ardent viewers of TV content that appeals to them and enjoy sharing and taking about they see with friends and on social media.

Google Veteran Job-Matching Ad Reinforces Value of a Useful Message

Google’s Super Bowl ad reinforced the potency of a TV ad with a straightforward message teamed with a clear call to action. The spot didn’t have glitz, celebrities, jousting knights or party-wrecking NFL legends, but it still packed a punch and made viewers pay attention.

Google’s Super Bowl ad reinforced the potency of a TV ad with a straightforward message teamed with a clear call to action. The spot didn’t have glitz, celebrities, jousting knights or party-wrecking NFL legends, but it still packed a punch and made viewers pay attention.

There are many things to learn from this year’s roster of Super Bowl ads (for example, never invite a bunch of former NFL players to a party), but perhaps the most important lesson is the continuing value of a useful message with a clear call to action.

Google earns my top award in this category for its minute-long spot aimed at assisting veterans match their military expertise to good-paying jobs back home. 

This is not a new undertaking for Google. It has sought to help returning vets for years. The 2019 Super Bowl ad managed to sum up its commitment with a sequence of images showing codes. For most of us, the codes are meaningless. For veterans, the codes represent the skill and specialization they achieved while serving in the military, which can easily be overlooked or undervalued by employers.

The ad’s message is that Google has used its vast online resources to align those military codes with jobs and professions in the domestic economy. It’s like translating French text into English as you read.

Google has teamed with RecruitMilitary, which bills itself as the nation’s leading veteran hiring company and talent recruiter. “We provide the spark that ignites organizations to excel by helping them hire and retain America’s best talent – its veterans,” proclaims the company’s website.

Google’s role is a feature called Cloud Talent Solution that allows veterans to search for job opportunities using their military occupational specialty codes. “The new search function is key to those service members who are actively seeking new career opportunities but are unsure of where to begin. It also delivers a strong starting point for newly transitioning veterans as they begin their post-military career search.” 

The Google Super Bowl ad wasn’t remotely glitzy and didn’t feature scads of celebrities. Instead, it relied on an intriguing message that resonated with transitioning military veterans – as well their families, employers and support communities. One of the greatest sources of untapped talent in the nation are military veterans who have skills. Those skills go for naught unless they have a job-matching map of where to look to apply them.

The ad served the purpose for Google of reminding viewers online searches combined with artificial intelligence algorithms can be a powerful tool that can reap very tangible benefits for individuals and businesses.

The simplicity and straightforwardness of the ad reflects a creative decision to let the message carry the day instead of relying on dazzling graphics or big stars. It reinforces the notion that a good message with a useful purpose is something people will want to hear. 

The military recruitment project by Google is commendable in its own right. The Super Bowl ad elevates the priority of the program while underscoring the value of technology in a complicated modern world. Many of us worry about our privacy and the mis-use of our online data. Google provides us an example of how the internet and machines that learn can deliver a great value to men and women who have earned it.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

The Value of Fetching Value Propositions

Poo-Pourri is a perfect example of how a name and tagline can convey a product’s value proposition with a clear, cheeky and hard-to-forget personality.

Poo-Pourri is a perfect example of how a name and tagline can convey a product’s value proposition with a clear, cheeky and hard-to-forget personality.

Value propositions provide consumers with a critical first impression of any product or idea. Think of value propositions as consumer speed dating.

Value propositions are most effective when wrapped in a memorable phrase or tagline. The makers of Poo-Pourri, a pre-flush toilet spray, illustrate the point with their value proposition/tagline – “Before you go, so no one will know you did.”

The Poo-Pourri value proposition, like all successful ones, addresses an acknowledged problem: Answering the call without guilt, regret or an odorous trail. It also tells the product’s story with a cheeky personality that is hard to forget.

Of course, cheekiness is only as good as it is successful. Poo-Pourri markets itself to women, engages in inoffensive potty humor and claims more than 3 billion “stink-flushes” by users. By any standard, a stinking success.

There are many examples of successful value propositions. IMPACT, an inbound marketing agency that helps companies improve outreach and sales, has compiled an impressive list. Here are a few of them: 

  • MailChimp: “Send Better Email” – simple, easy-to-understand and useful.

  • Mizzen and Main: “Performance Fabric. Traditional Style.” – addresses a felt-need by men for a functional, good-looking dress shirt.

  • Vimeo: “Make life worth watching” – provides a window into what it does, with an unobtrusive elbow to its competitor, YouTube.

  • FreshBooks: “Small Business Accounting Software Designed for You, the Non-Accountant” – you couldn’t say it any more clearly.

  • Tortuga Backpacks: “Bring Everything You Need Without Checking a Bag” – this carves a niche in the luggage business that is easily recognizable for veteran travelers.

  • Ladders: “Move up in your career” – responds to a perpetual concern about how to climb the career ladder and make more money by harkening to familiar imagery.

  • Evernote: “Remember Everything” – a memory-refreshing app that helps you keep track of what you are prone to forget, a problem almost everyone faces.

  • DeskBeers: “Craft Beer, Delivered to Your Office” – don’t tell the boss, but applause from fellow employees for this directly appealing name and tagline.

  • Spotify: “Soundtrack your life” – a goodie no longer in use, but still a great mash-up example of a tagline that tells you everything you need to know in three words.

The world of politics has produced a comparable example with the Green New Deal, a proposed stimulus policy aimed at addressing economic inequality and climate change. 

In a noisy world with crowded store shelves and endless social media posts, you need a way to stand out. A vivid value proposition melded into a name and/or tagline is one way to distinguish your product or idea in the minds of potential consumers or fellow sympathizers.

 

Sticking a Wet Nose into a Messy Issue

The Oregon Humane Society expanded its message from being humane to animals to being humane to humans in a classy, subtle advocacy advertising campaign that began at the height of vicious verbal attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers during the end of the midterm election campaigns.

The Oregon Humane Society expanded its message from being humane to animals to being humane to humans in a classy, subtle advocacy advertising campaign that began at the height of vicious verbal attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers during the end of the midterm election campaigns.

Debate will continue over whether businesses and nonprofits should stick their noses into public controversies. Perhaps the debate should be over whether they can avoid sticking their noses into public controversies and remain on the cutting edge.

Rating these entries into the public arena should rest on the skill by which they extend their noses, as a new campaign by the Oregon Humane Society demonstrates.

Titled “A More Humane Society,” a 60-second video asks viewers to “imagine a place where kindness and love prevail. A society in which all beings have a place, a purpose and a sense of belonging.”

The imagery is of dogs, cats and chickens, but the message is inescapably aimed at humans.

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The timing of the #bemorehumane campaign coincides with a midterm election campaign that featured vicious verbal attacks on immigrants and asylum-seekers. That wasn’t just a coincidence.

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The video leverages the organization’s name that contains the word “humane.” We associate the “Humane Society” with animals, but the video encourages looking beyond our companions to ourselves as humans.

Speaking metaphorically through animals is not new. St. Francis of Assissi once freed a rabbit from a trap, advised it to avoid traps in the future and shooed it away into the forest, only to have the rabbit jump on his lap. Francis is known even today as the Patron Saint of Animals for his expression of love to all creatures.

The Oregon Humane Society has taken the path less trodden before as with its award-winning “End Petlessness” campaign that traded in grim pictures of abused animals for fetching illustrations showing how great life can be with a four-legged friend.

The Oregon Humane Society has taken the path less trodden before as with its award-winning “End Petlessness” campaign that traded in grim pictures of abused animals for fetching illustrations showing how great life can be with a four-legged friend.

The Oregon Humane Society jumped into the middle of one of the nation’s most divisive issues with a subtly compelling video that attests there is no difference between “us” and “them,” no matter who “us” and “them” may be. Coincidentally, the OHS video includes a quick cameo of a rabbit.

The video goes well beyond the common calls for greater “civility” and points to the common ground of life itself. Our differences aren’t so different after all. We love our pets, regardless whether they have fur or feathers. Why can’t we love other humans, regardless of their skin color, religion or politics? 

Unlike the Nike ad featuring Colin Kapaernick that sparked outrage and social media posts of burning shows with a swoosh, the Oregon Humane Society has remained mostly under the radar. It attracted only 7,000 or so views on YouTube since being posted in late September.

However, the video is now attracting wider interest, and it should. The video is a classy example of advocacy advertising. It doesn’t stray from the organization’s purpose – or name. It places its ongoing work in larger relief. It calls people to action, not just to support humane treatment toward animals, but also toward all people.

Hats off to the Oregon Humane Society for sticking its wet nose into the issue of humanity.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

 

 

A Story about Public Relations and Advertising

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

With its latest TV commercial, Subaru shows storytelling and advertising can combine to deliver a powerful brand message in just 30 seconds.

Public relations and advertising are separate disciplines. Sometimes fiercely separate. It is fun to see the virtues of both come together to tell a brand story.

Subaru is airing a TV commercial for its Forester model titled, “A Life Story on the Line.” In a brief 30 seconds, the ad traces the life of a young couple through school, marriage, the birth of twins and a devasting traffic accident. The family survives and credits their Forester for “keeping their story going.”

The commercial conveys the Subaru brand promise in a nutshell or, more precisely, in a story line.

In previous years, Subaru storytelling ads talked about their vehicle’s durability through the eyes of a dad cleaning out memories from a car he is giving to his grown-up daughter. In a well-known series of ads, a dog family puts a Subaru through its paces in human terms from vacation traveling to a front-seat first kiss.

TV advertising earns its way by pushing messages in a visual envelope. But the creative instincts needed to produce an eye-catching 30-second spot are closely related to those employed by filmmakers to produce movies. They also are the stock and trade of public relations professionals. Storytelling may not work to announce a furniture sale, but Subaru used it effectively to promote the safety of its cars in flesh-and-blood terms.

Mac Schwerin, writing in Adweek, pans the use of storytelling in advertising. He says globalization has eviscerated brand stories, which tend to be tied to a specific place. Stories, Schwerin claims, are parochial and advertising needs to be global.

“Advertising is an objectively terrible format for storytelling,” he adds. “Commercials are not given enough breathing room to reward characterization, voice, humanity and a bunch of other nuanced literary stuff.”

Ana Gotter of Disruptive Advertising disagrees. “Stories communicate messages in highly specific and emotionally impactful ways,” Gotter says. “They’re memorable and give us something to identify with and hold on to. Statistics tell us what the reality is – stories tell us why it matters and why we need to care.”

Subaru has taken Gotter’s advice, not Schwerin’s, when producing TV ads. A simple, fast-paced narrative with a beginning, a moment of truth and a happy ending gives viewers a potent 30-second brand message: Subaru vehicles are safe.

The ad doesn’t try to lure you to a dealership with a discount or special promotion. It only tries to convince you that could save your family’s life by driving one of its cars. By anyone’s measure, that’s a powerful story – and an effective brand story.

The age of content marketing has achieved a lot, including bringing PR and advertising professionals closer together. The notion of paid advertising no longer is the exclusive territory of the Don Drapers and creatives who work on beanbag chairs. Paid advertising extends to storytelling in print, video, audio and social media formats.

Stories can sell, often better than confetti, screaming typefaces, overbearing announcers and unbelievable celebrity endorsers. Check out your own brand story and think about ways to share it with your customers and prospects.

Another Rebranding Apology; Another Marketing Misfire

Uber joined the corporate rebranding apology tour with a new 60-second TV spot. While striking a sincere tone, the ad still falls short on specifics and direct outreach to the customers and stakeholders most affected by the scandals that provoked the need for rebranding.

Uber joined the corporate rebranding apology tour with a new 60-second TV spot. While striking a sincere tone, the ad still falls short on specifics and direct outreach to the customers and stakeholders most affected by the scandals that provoked the need for rebranding.

Like Wells Fargo, Uber faced a tough 2017. Unlike Wells Fargo, Uber has launched an ad campaign that offers a more sincere-sounding plan on how it plans to clean up its act.

In a 60-second TV spot called “Moving Forward,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowhahi, who was hired in the middle of a series of scandals, walks through the actions the car-hailing company is taking. Keeping in mind it is a TV ad, not a consumer bill of rights, Uber says it will enable in-ride reviews of drivers and promises to improve the culture at Uber headquarters.

“Moving forward, it’s time to move in a new direction,” Khosrowhahi says in the ad.

Advertising observers have panned the Uber ad as “vague” and another corporate entry on the “apology tour.” That criticism is not invalid, but the Uber “apology” strikes a notably different tone than Wells Fargo’s ad that says the iconic company that began in 1852 is re-establishing itself in 2018.

The Wells Fargo ad started with historical footage and references to its gloried past before getting around to the one specific it announced – eliminating sales quotas for brand managers and instead emphasizing customer satisfaction.

The Uber ad comes across as less flashy and a bit more on point. Instead of a narrator, the voice you hear is the CEO who promises continuous improvement to make things better for riders, drivers and, presumably, Uber staff.  The ad also shows Uber riders and drivers.

Organizations that face rebranding challenges following scandals or product failures should study and learn from the Wells Fargo and Uber ad campaigns. Drawing on history and letting the CEO do the talking are just tactics. But rebranding strategy should center on specific action steps. If the digital age has done nothing else, it has made promises less important than actual improvements. Flash and CEO sincerity aren’t substitutes for on-the-ground change.

It isn’t a knock on advertising to observe that it may not be the best medium to convey the substance of a rebranding effort, as both the Wells Fargo and Uber ad campaigns demonstrate. Often, direct outreach to affected customers or stakeholders is the best path to successful rebranding. Convince them your change is real and meaningful, then let them talk about the change in unscripted ways on social media and, eventually, in an ad campaign featuring consumer reaction to your change.

We talk a lot about customer engagement and building trust. TV ads, regardless of their quality, push a message, but don’t engage. That can have the unintended effect of deepening cynicism and mistrust.

Wells Fargo and Uber deserve credit for undertaking rebranding. They both would have been better served by launching their rebranding in a less splashy – and possibly a lot less expensive – way by reaching out to their customers and telling them directly about the changes being made and asking for their reaction. That kind of engagement may not fit in a 60-second TV spot, but it is likely to provide a more satisfying and durable outcome.

 

Marketing Principles in an Evolving, Disruptive Marketplace

The 4Ps of marketing have been around for quite a while, but changing customer expectations, new technology and disruptive businesses demand adapting those principles to reach and persuade today’s consumers

The 4Ps of marketing have been around for quite a while, but changing customer expectations, new technology and disruptive businesses demand adapting those principles to reach and persuade today’s consumers

The 4 Ps have been the axioms of marketing for decades, but are they still relevant in the digital age? Sort of.

Product, price, promotion and place provide a framework for marketing plans – what are you selling, at what price, with what kind of promotion and through what channels. It is hard to get more basic than that.

However, the explosion of communication channels and the erosion of traditional media channels has made marketing these days anything but basic.

Jonathan Bacon, writing for Marketing Week, suggests the 4Ps have become more like guideposts than roadways to marketing success. He quotes one marketer as saying, “Marketing is no longer about what businesses want to tell their customers, it is about businesses listening to their customers and responding in a way that offers a meaningful solution to them.” Customer relationship management doesn’t exactly fit into the 4Ps as “promotion.”

Bacon notes that while “price” continues to play a role in customer decision-making, marketers must demonstrate why a product offers “value.”

Matt Barwell, consumer management officer for a beverage company, tells Bacon he has added two of his own Ps – purpose and penetration. Brands need purpose to exhibit consistency in product quality and their brand promise, which is emerging as a critical differentiator. Penetration is essential to the success of any marketing strategy, which translates into putting marketing messages in channels where intended customers are watching.

Ignoring the 4Ps can be risky, Bacon says, as many brands have discovered by chasing, but not catching fast-moving digital crowds. It’s like driving in a strange land without a roadmap.

The solution lies in adapting the 4Ps to the contours of a specific product’s shape or a brand personality. Offering free samples in a grocery store is different, but not that much different than providing samples to an influential blogger who will write a review. Both are promotions, and both seek to build a relationship.

New technology, including artificial intelligence and virtual reality, will profoundly alter the marketing landscape of the future. And that doesn’t take into account disruptive products and services. Who would have imagined Amazon in the food space or SpaceX in the colonization of Mars business? It will definitely make marketing even more challenging.

The 4Ps represent the established wisdom of marketing. Success these days doesn’t require rejecting 4P-principles. Instead, the 4Ps can be a compass of what to watch for in the marketplace so you don’t convince yourself that a low price, a clever ad or lots of followers on Facebook will take you to the promised land.

Marketing principles still apply. They simply have become a whole lot more complicated to apply.

 

What Do Super Bowl Ads Say About America?

What will Super Bowl ads say about us when cultural anthropologists in the future view them? They will discover we love beer, cars and our digital assistants and don’t like the smell of poop.

What will Super Bowl ads say about us when cultural anthropologists in the future view them? They will discover we love beer, cars and our digital assistants and don’t like the smell of poop.

If future cultural anthropologists only have Super Bowl ads to analyze, they may draw some interesting conclusions about American lifestyles in the 21st Century. They might conclude we’re schmaltzy nut cases addicted to beer, cars and movies who fret over the smell of poop and when our digital assistant goes mum.

The NFL’s Super Bowl, despite concerns over concussions and players kneeling during the National Anthem, has achieved (or assumed) the status of a national gathering, celebrated with chips and salsa and spicy hot wings. Many people curl up on their couch to ensure the game so they can watch the commercials, which have achieved their own legendary status, at an average cost of $5 million per 30 seconds for advertisers.

While sports announcers breathlessly described each play, others were quietly rating the commercials. One team wins the football game. Five advertisers win the Super Bowl of ads.

Fans question officiating that can turn the fortunes of the game in one team’s favor. Judging Super Bowl commercials has some of the same subjectivity. Here is how CBS sports writer Pete Blackburn judged the winners and losers of Sunday’s big ad game:

Amazon may have scored the most game-day views on YouTube AdBlitz with its “Did Alexa Lose Her Voice” spot. CEO Jeff Bezos is confronted with the news Alexa, the uber-digital assistant, has lost her voice and his aides are ready to plug in replacements that range from Cardi B to Anthony Hopkins. It’s pretty funny, but also like a bad dream because Alexa returns by the end of the commercial.

Heartstrings were plucked by ads from Budweiser and Toyota. The “Stand By You” Bud ad starts with a company executive awakened from sleep to head to the brewery where he turns beer production lines into water dispensers to send to areas impacted by hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Budweiser says its Cartersville, Georgia brewery produced 2 million cans of water last year from people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California.

Toyota’s “Good Odds” ad celebrated the perseverance of Canadian alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft, an eight-time Paralympic gold medalist, who was born without legs below her knees and only a partial left arm. No Toyota vehicles appeared in the ad, which instead leveraged the car company’s sponsorship of the upcoming Winter Olympics. “Stand By You” received the tenth most views during the game. “Good Odds” wasn’t in the top 10.

The other “winners” declared by Blackburn were Tide’s “It’s a Tide Ad” featuring David Harbour and the NFL’s “Touchdowns to Come” that starred Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. Neither of those ads made the top 10 viewership list.

Blackburn ranked movie trailer ads separately, and they were four of the most viewed. They included HBO’s “Westworld Season 2,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Infinity War” and Prime Video’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”

Topping the loser list was the Ram Truck ad “Built to Serve” that used a voiceover from a Martin Luther King speech about the value of service. Even though the MLK Estate approved the use, critics said the ad was in poor taste and, ironically, exhibited the kind of “deceptive tactics by advertisers” that King warned of in the same speech.

The Bud Knight” was judged a jousting dud, with too little of Bud Light’s new “Dilly Dilly” slogan and an underwhelming amount of humor that has become the hallmark of its previous ads. Based on the comic reputation of earlier ads, “The Bud Knight” was the fourth most watched ad of the night.

Hyundai’s “Hope Detector” centered on bringing together car buyers and cancer survivors in what Blackburn panned as faux sentimentality. While Hyundai didn’t picture any of its vehicles, Blackburn said the well-intentioned ad turned people into props.

Febreze’s “The Only Man Whose Bleep Don’t Stink” ad, according to Blackburn, actually did stink. It could be Blackburn just disapproves of bathroom humor.

He also panned another car ad, Kia’s “Feel Something Again,” which shows Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler driving and aging in reverse, so when he exits the car he is greeted by an adoring groupie. Blackburn said the ad was creepy and promoted a lot of online questions on Google about how old Tyler actually is.

Other “insights” shared by Blackburn:

  • YouTube viewership of Super Bowl ads increased 16 percent over last year, but “viewership in the living room” popped up by 52 percent.
  • Justin Timberlake’s half-time music on YouTube peaked at more than 500,000 views per hour during the game. Timberlake also was the subject of many online questions, including about his age and marital status.

 

Brand Stories: Pets with Cancer, Shoes from a Waffle Iron

A beloved pet’s bouts with cancer inspired one family to start a pet food company using high-quality ingredients. Blue’s story is at the heart of Blue Buffalo’s brand story that compels consumer interest and builds brand loyalty.

A beloved pet’s bouts with cancer inspired one family to start a pet food company using high-quality ingredients. Blue’s story is at the heart of Blue Buffalo’s brand story that compels consumer interest and builds brand loyalty.

Consumers are bombarded by brands, but most remain faceless without a compelling brand story. For companies with a story, it is an opportunity missed to build brand interest and loyalty.

I was reminded of this over the holiday break when I saw a TV ad for Blue Buffalo pet food. The ad was mostly about Blue, a large-breed Airedale that battled cancer and inspired its owners and pals to pursue a pet food company using quality, natural ingredients. A longer version of Blue’s story is on the company’s website.

Blue Buffalo is a now a publicly traded company. The young boy who fell in love with Blue as a puppy is the CEO. The company markets its higher-end dog and cat food around the BLUE Life Protection Formula®.  Dogs are everywhere at corporate headquarters and are treated like family, which led to the company’s trademarked cutline, “Love them like family. Feed them like family.” There is a Blue Buffalo foundation to raise awareness of pet cancer.

The Blue brand story has authenticity, even if the brand has faced a couple of accidents on the rug in its history. Purina sued Blue Buffalo, claiming its ingredients didn’t live up to its brand promise (Blue Buffalo blamed the lapse on some of its suppliers). Some pet owners say the food gave their dogs diarrhea, forcing them to switch to another brand. Despite these blemishes, the Blue brand story continues to attract consumer interest.

Brand storytelling has been used by many other consumer-facing companies, including Nike, which traces its birth to Bill Bowerman’s waffle iron used to mold shoe soles and continues with Phil Knight’s memoir Shoe Dog. Along the way, Nike has employed stories to make its brand more than just about running shoes. Equality is one of its recent brand stories and new apparel lines, which “celebrates differences and inspires change through the power of sport.”

One of the most iconic brand stories comes from Burt’s Bees, whose founders (an artist and a beekeeper) met through a hitchhiking encounter. Burt’s Bees sells natural care products with a side of activism, including efforts to restore areas where bees forage. Its videos underscore the company’s philosophy of treating our skins and our planet with care.

Minnetonka, which makes comfortable and affordable footwear, touts itself as a fourth-generation family-run business dedicated to hand craftsmanship and sustainable employment practices. Part of its brand storytelling is interspersing pictures of stars like Cameron Diaz and Kate Moss with user-supplied pictures of everyday people wearing their moccasins, sandals and boots. Content on its websitedescribes when and how some of its famous moccasins originated

Digital marketer Sujan Patel wrote a recent blog describing seven brands that he says are “killing it with brand-driven storytelling,” including Nike, Burt’s Bees and Minnetonka.

“Telling your story is a critical part of building your brand,” Patel writes. “It helps to shape how people view you and enables consumers to begin forging a connection with you and your company.”

The trick, he adds, is making sure the stories authentic, not fabricated. “Consumers aren’t stupid. If they think you’re fabricating stories and falsifying your brand they will find out. At some point, the truth will come out and the ‘brand’ you built will be in need of some serious damage control if it’s to survive.”

As Blue pet food demonstrates, you need to do more than tell your story. You need to walk your talk and keep faith with your brand story.

Do you have an untold brand story? Do you need help telling or showing your brand story? Share your brand story with us. Maybe we can help. In any case, we would love to hear your story.

Humor as Your Brand Signature

Duluth Trading capitalized on the intrinsic humor of men’s ill-fitting underwear to create a brand signature that is memorable and touching. Don’t laugh off humor as a way to give your brand a defining signature.

Duluth Trading capitalized on the intrinsic humor of men’s ill-fitting underwear to create a brand signature that is memorable and touching. Don’t laugh off humor as a way to give your brand a defining signature.

Duluth Trading makes men’s underwear and women’s tank tops funny. Its owners are laughing all the way to the bank because it turns out humor sells.

Buck Naked Underwear, Free Swingin’ Flannel, Uncramp Your Crouch Khakis and Warm Your Chestnuts Fleece Work Pants are marketed with what you might call cheeky humor. Never too offensive, but clearly and lightheartedly delivering the point. Appropriate because, for some reason, men’s underwear is funny.

The company’s brand personality has connected with male and female consumers. Net annual sales have risen from around $150 million in 2013 to an expected $450 million this year. Year-over-year sales growth has reached as high as 40 percent and should exceed 20 percent in 2017.

Duluth Trading has bucked the retail trend by increasing the percentage of its sales in-store as opposed to online and expanding the number of brick-and-mortar outlets every year.

Other brands use humor, too, to turn a buck. The Dollar Shave Club runs ads implying a conspiracy or incompetence at retail stores to prevent selling shaving gear to would-be customers. In one ad, a man who grabs a razor is shot in the neck with a poison dart by a store clerk. The Club’s launch video in 2012 showed the company CEO riding a pitchfork around a warehouse and cracking jokes. It became a social media favorite.

Allstate Insurance, whose tagline is the “Good Hands” people, used sick humor to underscore its brand value. Through a character called Mayhem, played by actor Dean Winters, Allstate reminds people that “stuff happens” – an accidental portable grill explosion, changing a tire in a downpour and being captive at a dull family gathering because of a dead car battery.

Winters has portrayed a hungry raccoon, a pooping pigeon and fog in Seattle. During a football bowl game, he played a nerd burglar who broke into an actual couple’s home who announced on social media they were going on vacation and sold their belongings online. It was a social media hit and helped Mayhem become as recognizable as Geico’s Gecko and Progressive’s Flo, who not so coincidentally is a comedian.

Infusing humor into your marketing rests on a few basic principles. What you are infusing must be humorous. And it can’t cause offense. Both parts of the equation can be tricky.

In the case of a brand, humor is in the eye of the consumer – that is, the buyer. Discomfort in the crotch may make a man grumpy, but it makes a wife an eager buyer. The Buck Naked underwear ads make women beam and reach for their smartphones.

Offending with humor is as easy as spilling mustard from a hot dog on your shirt. Making people appear like klutzes isn’t flattering, but if you can humorously show that animals, inanimate objects and weather fronts can conspire against you, your audience may laugh as they check out their insurance coverage.

With men growing out beards every day, shaving is a bother, only made worse by the hassle of getting the right razor and shaving cream. Turning this frustration into a cartoon while being offered a chance to have shaving gear shipped to your door would make any man with stubble smile.

Injecting humor into your brand doesn’t have to result in guffaws and belly laughs. All you need to do is earn a chuckle and a little space in a consumer memory. The humor doesn’t need to rival Jerry Seinfeld, just come off as clever, maybe a little offbeat and eye-catching.

Humor can be especially welcome at a time when the news is dour and people are polarized. Laughter is one of the few things that can cut through anger and angst. As long as it doesn’t feed the anger and angst.

Brands should consider humor, but not jump online until the humor has been tested from as many angles as relevant. Know the risks. Adjust accordingly. Keep it straight if in doubt.

However, don’t underestimate a gut feeling. An experienced PR team strongly advised against adding “Killer” to “Dave’s Bread.” Adding “killer” wasn’t necessarily funny, but it became the offbeat defining signature for the brand.

The punchline: Don’t laugh off the use of humor as your defining brand signature.

Turning Your Quirky Side into Strategy

 Quirkiness can be a charming way to cause a double-take or a deeper look at your product, service or idea. Check out your quirkiness quotient to see if it can provide a promotional boost.

 Quirkiness can be a charming way to cause a double-take or a deeper look at your product, service or idea. Check out your quirkiness quotient to see if it can provide a promotional boost.

In a world full of bad news, sometimes a little light-hearted humor helps. Like when you see a bunch of men’s faces sprouting wooly heads of hair and beards. You have to stop for a moment and chuckle. Maybe you will wonder if you need a fist full of wool.

Quirky design can be an effective marketing strategy by surprising your eyes. It makes you do a double-take. With shriveled attention spans by eye-weary consumers, that’s about as much as you can hope for.

Zombies are quirky, but not especially playful. Quirky works best when its subject matter is playful. Like curving wooden cabinets that would be a perfect fit in a Dr. Seuss book. Or little egg-like characters who share tips on proper etiquette for bus riders. Or a bicycle seat that doubles as a security lock to prevent theft of the bike – or seat.

Even though some car dealers still run TV ads with announcers who sound like bellowing circus barkers, many people prefer a subtler form of persuasion, a tiny dose of humor. You still need to sell a product, but you do it with a sense of style – turning wool yarn into men’s beards. (If you wrap a man’s face in a woolen mask, it’s not subtle – and not especially funny.)

Quirkiness doesn’t work on an island. It needs to mesh with product design. Thieves steal bikes and bike seats, so why not thwart thieves by turning the bike seat into an invincible bike lock. Oon designed a cute multi-shaped, fully functional power cord that you feel comfortable having in full sight.

A quirky design helps an otherwise bland product stand out. You can walk for miles inside an IKEA store and see rows of boxy cabinets. But you don’t always see curvy cabinets, tables designed for eating and ping-pong or a purse with arms, legs and a wry smile.

What may seem quirky at first can become beloved. The clean lines of the original Apple iPhone, which just turned 10 years old, reflected the simplicity and adaptability of its touch screen and sent frumpy cell phones on the road to obsolescence.

Granted, quirkiness can represent a marketplace risk. Don’t let your wildest imagination be your guide. But giving your imagination some room to roam can be healthy and result in a fresh, livelier perspective on how to package, market or design your product, service or idea.

If you need help finding your own quirkiness, read MAD Magazine or go see a Minions movie. If Alfred E. Neman and those lovable, mischievous yellow blobs of energy can’t excite your imagination, you might be better off sticking with stale ideas and leaving quirky surprises to others.

Marketing to Millennials and Boomers Together

Boomers and Millennials have their differences, but they also share a lot of interests, insecurities and needs. Marketers shouldn’t overlook what may be seem like improbable opportunities to woo them jointly for travel adventures, performance gear and financial advice.

Boomers and Millennials have their differences, but they also share a lot of interests, insecurities and needs. Marketers shouldn’t overlook what may be seem like improbable opportunities to woo them jointly for travel adventures, performance gear and financial advice.

Marketing to Millennials and Boomers may seem like speaking to polar opposites, but they may actually share some important similarities and needs that can make them interesting promotional partners.

To be sure Millennials and Boomers are looking at opportunities from the opposite ends of life, but they have some surprising things in common:

  • Millennials are curious about and want to travel the world before settling down. Boomers are curious about and want to travel the world while they are still physically able.
  • Millennials grew up with digital technology and use text messages to replace the telephone. Boomers are steadily embracing use of digital technology to replace going to retail stores.
  • Millennials are looking for affordable housing close to the action. So are Boomers.
  • Millennials take funny selfies with their friends. Boomers take funny selfies with the grandchildren.

It could be improbably playful – and profitable – to market to both at once.

You can’t overlook the significant differences between these age cohorts. But even differences have similarities. Many Millennials labor under crushing student loan debt and struggle to find jobs that pay well. Boomers are staring at retirement, often with inadequate savings and a financial and psychological need to keep working. Both could use sound financial advice, job leads and more flexible work options.

When Millennials travel in Europe, they usually take the train. Boomers increasingly book river cruises. But they wind up in many of the same locations. How they get there may matter less than what they do when they get there.

Millennials often postpone family life. Boomers are empty nesters. Without small children, both are free to undertake adventures to out-of-the-way places such as Nepal or Peru. They could go on a photo safari in an African savannah or a road bike tour. Shared adventure, not disparate age would be the common denominator for markets to promote.

The sense of fashion can vary widely between Millennials and Boomers. Yet both could value performance apparel. What each age group may be able to afford won’t negate both group’s interest in affordable accommodations through the likes of Airbnb. Millennials and Boomers may appreciate the convenience and safety of hailing a ride on Uber or Lyft. They each want to document important life events so want phones with quality cameras they can shoot great pictures and capture video.  They also will use technology such as live streaming to stay in touch and talk to younger children.

"Navigating Life Together"

"Navigating Life Together"

A deeply shared concern is economic security. MetLife has launched a new ad campaign called “Navigating Life Together" that capitalizes on the multi-generational appeal of employee benefit plans. It is an excellent example of marketing to multiple generations. 

The bottom line is there is natural link between Boomers and Millennials. Their coming of age has an eerie parallel. Young people are growing more interested in political protests. They couldn’t find better mentors than Boomers who grew up with protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. For many products and services, segmenting by age makes sense. But don’t overlook opportunities to see beyond age barriers to appeals without

Crack a Joke to Build a Brand

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan quips in a new commercial about driving a Chrysler Pacifica minivan and retaining his manhood. It’s just one example of how humor has become a staple of contemporary marketing campaigns, especially ones trying to appeal to young adults.

No joke, comedy can be a brand builder.

Think of comedian Jim Gaffigan and his ads for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which are designed to convince young dads that driving a family minivan doesn’t mean you still can’t be cool and yourself.

Humor has become a regular staple in many marketing campaigns, especially ones aimed at younger audiences that are drawn to the sassy comedy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and satirical commentary in The Onion

Peppercomm, a new York-based marketing company, has made humor a hallmark of its own culture. Its management and account leader training includes instruction in stand-up comedy. Co-founder and CEO Steve Cody said comedy was embedded in training “because it improved presentation, listening and rapport-building skills while creating a unique culture.”

“Many in the industry scoffed, believing PR was a far too serious business for comedy,” Cody added. “Today, we’re routinely hired by clients and non-clients to stage comedy workshops for their employees.” And the firm is retained to inject humor into client marketing campaigns.

Humor can be a double-edged sword. An insensitive joke or an offending aside can damage a brand or at least cause embarrassment. But well-timed comedy can be entertaining and even endearing.

Southwest Airlines is a great example. Flight attendants are well known for stand-up routines involving safety instructions. The iconoclastic airline has hired aspiring actors as flight attendants to help realize its corporate goal of making passengers laugh and feel at ease.

A Southwest Airlines attendant quipped as the plane was taking a long time to taxi to the runway, “You know, we drive halfway and fly the other half.” Another attendant deadpanned, “If you smoke on this airplane, the FAA will fine you $2,000. At those prices, you might as well fly Delta."

Even when humor is a corporate goal, discretion and a sense of timing are essential. Like any form of communication, and especially comedy, you have to know your audience. And your critics. Kmart took a risk with the “I Shipped My Pants” TV ad campaign. The play-on-words humor offended some, but it did help the struggling retailer dramatically drive up its web traffic. Before the ad, no one ever accused Kmart of being edgy.

Dollar Shave Club leapt into business with a YouTube video that was described as “unconventional, outrageous and blunt” – and, of course, funny. The video made the rounds of social media with more than 17 million views and put the startup company on the shaving map.

Charmin marketed toilet paper with a #tweetfromtheseat campaign that encouraged people to share their most innermost inspiration while on the throne in their bathroom.

State Farm peddled insurance with its “Jake from State Farm” ads that were reprised with Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin reprising their Conehead characters from Saturday Night Live. Not to be outdone, Allstate hired Dean Winters, who had a role in 30 Rock, to personify mayhem in a series of laugh-provoking commercials.

Wonderful Pistachios took no chances and hired Stephen Colbert to create buzz for its brand at the 2014 Super Bowl.

It is necessary to hire a production company, and it doesn't hurt to bring in a TV star, to convey a compellingly comedic side of your brand. Marketers who make humor part of messaging say the secret is in authenticity with a little showmanship. Getting a consumer to laugh is one of the best hooks to get them to buy.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

The Face of News Media Keeps Changing

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

We may be trading dominance by communications conglomerates for dominance by a handful of gargantuan technology companies that are emerging as prime arbiters of our news feeds.

Given the recent flap over Facebook’s censorship of certain trending news, that could be a growing concern, rivaling worries over the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s influence over what is considered news.

It is no secret that newspaper circulation has continued to dive as many print publications have struggled to cash in on their digital siblings. But it has gone relatively unnoticed that eyeballs tracking the news have shifted so dramatically to Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter – with $40 billion in digital advertising trailing along.

Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn puts it alongside Google, Facebook and Apple as digital platforms intent on creating bubbles that users never have to leave to do their work, share information, network with friends or potential employers, be entertained and view the news.

According to the Pew Research Center's 2016 State of the News Media report, 2015 was the worst year for newspapers since the Great Recession. Circulation dropped 7 percent, advertising fell 8 percent and newsroom staffing shrunk 10 percent.

Michael Barthel, a Pew research associate focusing on journalism research, speculated, “Coming amid a wave of consolidation, this accelerating decline suggests the industry may be past its point of no return."

Meanwhile, TV and cable news operations held their own, thanks in part to a long and lively presidential primary season with lots of candidates and SuperPacs. News podcasting and live streaming are experiencing audience growth, but not revenue growth. If there is good news, they also are not cannibalizing traditional radio listenership and revenues, Barthel says.

Mobile devices are gobbling up audience attention and attracting more ad bucks -- and Google and Facebook are raking in the lion's share. The transition is more rapid than some may realize, with mobile advertising now outpacing advertising geared for desktop devices.

The question begged by the mounds of data in the Pew media report is “So, what does it all mean?” For one, it’s clear people appear more, not less interested in the news. They are shifting where they get their news, which is pulling advertising to new places and creating a demand for different types of advertising. But there is no promise current trends will persist. They may just be dog legs to the left on a course that is inexorably going into a water hazard on the right.

It seems obvious there is increased channel segmentation and a sharp divide in the news viewing habits of younger and older adults. But where does that lead? In an age of videos and visuals, why are audio-only communications picking up steam?  Will cable TV news retains its appeal after the November election? Would TV networks and stations have benefited as much by a more traditional contest such as Hillary Clinton versus a candidate like John Kasich?

Local TV stations have been buoyed by the buzz and business bump of morning TV shows, which feed into national news TV shows. Even evening TV news shows, which have been stretched over a range of “getting home” times, are prospering or at least holding their own. But how is this sustainable when younger adults no longer tune into traditional TV?

Media trends have a remarkable ability to mirror general societal trends. They show, as Pew reports, that people still thirst for news, but are willing to gravitate to different platforms and non-traditional sources to find it. Apple and Yahoo aren’t permanent emplacements. They can be as temporary as yesteryear must-sees, such as “Laugh In” and “Dallas.”

One thing is clear. In times past, all people could do is complain about the faults of their local newspaper or the bias of TV networks. But there is a lot more to fret about today when it comes to the news.

The Marriage of TV Ads and Content Marketing

American Family Insurance's retro Super Bowl ad featuring Jennifer Hudson shows the power of combining paid media with online content marketing.

American Family Insurance's retro Super Bowl ad featuring Jennifer Hudson shows the power of combining paid media with online content marketing.

American Family Insurance splurged on a high-profile Super Bowl ad to launch an online campaign to encourage people to pursue their dreams fearlessly.

A singing Jennifer Hudson headlines the 60-second TV spot, which is set in a retro scene taken from the 1942 Edward Hopper painting called "Nighthawks." The ad is impressive, but what separates it from the average big-money spot is its social engagement component.

Clearly, American Family Insurance wants people to click on its website and get quotes for car or home insurance. But the website also contains a nicely designed "Dream Bank." "Every dream deserves the spotlight. Which is why DreamBank by American Family Insurance is using the biggest game of the year to give the spotlight to hardworking dreamers who have the courage to dream fearlessly."

After tripping through a section devoted to the aspiring actors who appeared in the Super Bowl ad with Hudson, you come to a section aimed at helping everyday dreamers. "Every dream starts with the dreamer," the section begins. "By understanding your strengths, motivations and fears, you can better focus on your dream and the path to get there." 

Dreamers are then led through a series of questions about what propels their dream, followed by a set of online resources, including 26 books to inspire kids to "dream bigger." Viewers are asked to sign up for updates as more content is posted.

In all, it is a worthy effort to get people's attention with an ad and then to sustain that attention online by offering something of value.

Without question, the emphasis on this project was the splashy ad. The Dream Bank is mostly a nascent idea with a trickle of content. But the concept is solid and shows the importance of interconnecting paid media and online content marketing. This is a strategy that can be pursued without a multi-million dollar advertising budget.

There are lots of ways to pique people's interest — through contests, events, direct mail, posters and storytelling — that gives them enough reason to follow-up online. The online material's job is to give a quick and positive first impression, then to offer well-packaged, accessible content that is informative and useful. 

Quality content will keep people coming back, so you get a chance at more than a one-time encounter. American Family Insurance undoubtedly hopes it can stay in touch with people who sign up as dreamers, with the hope their dreams will lead to the need for more or different insurance. Hopefully, the company will see beyond mere clicks for quotes to the possibility of building an online community centered on empowering and realizing life dreams. Being associated with that social enterprise will bring richer dividends than a few new auto insurance policies.

You know content marketing is catching on when even big-league ad agencies find ways to promote it. Just remember, you don't need a big-league ad agency to launch your own combined campaign of outreach and engagement.

Values Over Volume

Advertising can be faulted for failing to state a product's value proposition. But ads also can fail to speak to the hearts of consumers about values.

Digital media has created headaches for advertising executives. Content marketing has confounded them. But in some ways, the revolution in technology has released advertising from its own boundaries.

People don't "believe" advertising, so it makes little sense to pound away at your value proposition. Even Wal-Mart has shifted its advertising from a bouncing yellow ball knocking over price tags on its shelves to ads featuring customers "discovering" they can buy what they need at a lower cost than a competitor store. Same message, but very different context.

In a blog post published by ragan.com, Chad Cipoletti argues that sometimes it is better for advertising to sell values than products. He cites the 1988 Nike ad showing 80-year-old Walt Stack on his daily run. As he crosses the Golden Gate Bridge, Stack says, "I run 17 miles every morning. People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime. I leave them in my locker." 

Social Media Manager is Dead-End Job

With social media becoming an ever-increasing part of communications strategies, how can a position dedicated to managing social media be already on the way out?

The answer to that is easy and predictable. Social media never was — or should have been — an end in itself. It is just another tool, a cool one at that, in your integrated communications toolkit.

Social media is the perfect answer for some marketing and issue management needs and a non-starter for others. Just like TV ads, billboards and direct mail.

In the marketing PR world, the right answer isn't what service you sell; it is the tool or tools that get the job done.

Think of social media in the same light as websites. Not that long ago, websites were rarities as part of communications strategies. Now, it is rare to find a communications plan that doesn't call for a website. Social media is following a similar pattern. It is becoming a staple in most communications strategies. But it usually is just a part of the strategy.

Content with a Purpose

Content marketing is in many cases replacing advertising. However, content marketing must follow the example of advertising and provide a clear call to action to customers and clients.

While advertising tries to reach customers by sheer repetition of a simple message, content marketing seeks to convince by the reliable presence of valuable information. Websites and social media become information portals where customers can find tips and advice they trust.

But content marketing cannot slip into the role of librarian or simply serve as a magazine rack. The point of content marketing is to draw customers toward your product and service. Content marketers must integrate calls to action in the information they provide — and make it easy for customers to try out or purchase their products and services.

This can range from easy-to-find phone numbers to offers of free products or consultations. You can invite website viewers to watch a video demo and promote it on your Facebook page. You can feature a trial version of a product or showcase a how-to guide. You can couple a white paper with a coupon.

As the name implies, content marketing means selling your product through content. To be effective, you need both the content and the sales pitch. This demands intelligent website design. Content must be prominently displayed. So must your call to action.

Studies indicate many business fumble the ball by not providing quality, original content and, when they do, failing to combine it with effective calls to action. They have static websites. Valuable content, if available, is buried. Calls to action are either invisible or overdone. 

A Third Way for the Media

What if a media outlet's advertising staff consisted of writers, photographers and graphic designers who produced custom content for clients that ran in clearly designated, but parallel tracks to the outlet's news content?

Far-fetched? In a digital world that rewards content marketing, it may already be a reality, which traditional media have been slow to embrace.

Bill Momary, writing for NetNewsCheck, says traditional media may be off track trying to find ways to monetize their news content. What they should do instead, he suggests, is gear up to help advertisers tell their stories through content marketing published in conjunction with news content.

That could involve advertising departments hiring writers, photographers, videographers and graphic designers to generate compelling content that tells a story about new products or improved customer service. 

The idea splinters the image, held by old-time reporters and editors like me, that news and advertising staffs work in parallel, but separate universes. In the new model hinted at by Momary, the separation would remain, but the skill sets of the news and marketing content generators would be almost identical. Staff on both sides of the newsroom "Iron Curtain" would be looking for fresh, inviting and informative stories to entice readers.

What these new online publications would look like isn't pictured in Momary's blog, but you could imagine a blending not unlike what you see evolving in social media sites. Except in the case of online news outlets, there would be a built-in acceptance of seeing news and marketing content side by side, unlike on Facebook, which may have spoiled a generation of original users by making its platform available for free.