Brand Journalism Is One Suspicious Article
Let’s not trust corporations to act as journalists, using the Internet to write about their products. Pro or con?
Pro: Readers Deserve Unbiased Content
I run a website that looks at the democratization of media and how the Internet brings new voices to the public square. But the Web has also given corporations the chance to bypass the media and take their messages directly to the public.
While that is empowering for companies and removes the traditional gatekeeper role of journalists, it also leaves consumers to fend for themselves. Corporations can now “act as journalists” in spreading the word about their products, but what about the people who make a living as journalists and aren’t just acting? They provide an important role as detectors of the B.S. that leaves consumers scratching their heads about corporations’ claims.
Imagine this scenario: A technology company releases a new smartphone and begins a massive marketing campaign, claiming the phone does amazing things, is faster than any other phone, and has the best network. But consumers are much better served by turning to journalists—real journalists—for reviews of the phone. A technology site such as CNET (CBS) would put the phone through extra paces, with all the marketing claims tested in a lab.
Without this kind of oversight and review process, we are left to believe company claims that are often overblown. So please, let’s not trust corporations to act as journalists.
Con: The Content Springs from Knowledgeable Experts
The debate over brand journalism is a bit of a red herring. Brands have created content for decades. In recent years, however, the Internet has made brand journalism ubiquitous and more intimately entwined with traditional publishing, giving its critics renewed fodder.
Brands are experts: The people who work at companies often have a detailed knowledge and thorough understanding of their industry. Employees at Cisco (CSCO), for instance, are incredible resources for information about IT networking or pitfalls in data center build-outs. Why shouldn’t the technology community have access to their ideas, whether or not Cisco is paying to publish it?
Smart brands don’t pitch: Marketers want to engage audiences through content—they know overt self-promotion kills engagement. Thus, smart content marketing is built on topics meaningful to an audience, without product placement. Home Depot (HD), for example, may produce how-to content on fixing your home. Of course, such content carries brand value to Home Depot, but that doesn’t change the credibility of their article.
Readers are the authority: Give readers some credit—they’re the final arbiters who will determine which content is interesting and useful and which is self-serving propaganda. In today’s digital age, their collective judgment is instantly measurable. Indeed, brand journalism exists to provide audiences with value beyond just an advertisement, aiming to provoke dialogue or prompt sharing with others. Marketers are acutely aware that authenticity, transparency, and real substance are essential for this to work.
All content comes in different shades of quality, but good brand journalism is simply good writing. Period.