Brand Journalism: The Rise of Non-Fiction Advertising

Imagine a world in which brands tell the truth, advertisers act like publishers and all communication is real-time.  Is this world possible? #brandjo

  • Kyle Monson – Editor JWT
  • Brian Clark – President of GMD Studios
  • Bob GarfieldAdvertising Age
  • David Eastman – CRO JWT North America
  • Shiv Singh – Head of digital, Pepsico

Eastman: Everyone understand the brand bit – the journalism is an editorial approach to brand buildling – thinking engagement and transparency over messaging and control.  It’s a non-fiction attempt at advertising which people would rather engage with.  From an agency point of view it’s about thinking as publishers rather than marketers.

Clark: I think everyone would prefer advertising to be like  content rather than the other way round.

Monson: Been a journalist for 6 years.  We are making journalists more relevant rather than less because this skill of publishing is more relevant than ever.

Garfield – the marketing maven part of me says ‘interesting’ and the journalist in me makes me want to punch you in the face.

Singh – this is a clear imperative.  Important.  The definition is all about real time marketing – as life happens.  

This is a JWT event…. demonstrate your bona fides.

Monson: Who’s doing good stuff?  MacDonalds 5 years ago. is running – turning their brand over to church members to say why they are members of the Mormon church in video.  They aren’t editing it at all just deciding whether to run or not run.  Representing the brand to the world.

Clark: MacDonalds took a PR agency solution the Moms programme.  They took 8 mothers to where they grow the potatoes all on video.  “the mom says they use real eggs?”   This is custom publishing (a print industry) this has been around for years and has been created using the same process.  [interesting….I disagree]  The process how a brand and a content editor can work together is ‘muscle memory’ and can happen.

Singh: We compete with everything else for consumers’ attention we have to act and think the way someone who is writing a status update does.  We can’t just launch something about co-creation – it has no resonance or meaning for consumers or us.  If it’s not aligned with our values it has no meaning.  It’s about the resonsnce between our brand essence and values and where they meet together.

Eastman: The bigger picture is everything is becoming digital and becoming media and when everything is media it’s becoming marketing.  When everything is marketing how should brands and agencies behave with each other?

Garfield: Advertising goals are awareness and persuasion. In Social Media the goals are credibility and trust.  How do you forge a relationship around sugar water?

Singh: None of us have a deep relationship with this building.  Our relationship is with SXSW which is at the Austin Convention Centre.  With Pepsi the relationship is with the brand, it’s often the moment and what the drink evokes.  Goes beyond the product itself.  The Pepsi Refresh Project – we gave away $20m to good causes.  This wasn’t philanthropy budget but marketing.

We saw a lift in persuastion, brand health, brand equity.  People who voted / participated formed a closer relationship.  We are scaling it up for 2011 because it worked for us.

Clark: Ford Bold Moves was part-documentary enabling film crews to access new places like board meetings, plants being closed and part-journalism they agreed not to edit what the journalists wrote.  Point, counter-point articles.  Debate about what Ford should do to turn the corner.  Because  we let them say what they believed, they were willing to work with Ford.  Ford uses a lot more real people, informal tone of voice, got away from “sheet metal porn” and into more real stuff.  This can still be seen today.

Monson: Aggregation is hard – pulling in negative news stories is a hard nut to get clients to agree to.  We’ve got Microsoft to hire freelance journalists and publish things that MS doesn’t agree with – they post a response post to these articles.

Clark: I disagree – third party content exists already – why are we still talking about bad things on the internet being an issue?  It’s here.  don’t be afraid of something that isn’t a glowing testimonial.  A good review should be showcased. 80% might be as good as you’re going to get.

Singh: That misses the point.  If I publish 25% of my content that’s bad about my brand just to show I’m transparent it is inward looking even if consumers think we ‘get it’.  I think it’s about adding value to consumers’ lives – the 183,000 ideas submitted gives us insight into what matters to people in the country today.  This is an example of doing something new but adds value.

Garfield: Chrysler “I find it’s ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity but nobody knows how to f** drive!”  The employee got fired from the social media agency.   This is a pretty good line about Detroit.  Does highlight how vulnerable a brand can be – careless candour, morbid humour, maligned conduct.  How to reconcile the control freakdom of brand management versus individuality of social media.

Singh: It was by the PR agency – they got fired as an agency by Chrysler.  If we as brands want to take brand journalism seriously the jounalists need to be part of your organisation and they know brand values.  Chrysler didn’t have an employee tweeting on their behalf – if he’d been an employee he might have said the same thing and he shouldn’t have been fired.  They should have taken this opportunity to fix the driving issues in Detroit.

Eastmen: without the word f*** it is a perfectly acceptable sentiment.  Doesn’t this say more about the reaction from Chrysler – they look slightly foolish for having over-reacted.  Not particularly smart.

Monson: It’s a Public Relations thing – this is a tweet that the public actually related to and they fired the guy for it.

Singh: To think that in social media a brand can have a big fat anonymous voice [is wrong].  A tweet error mistake hapens. we know our executives also make errors.  We’re all human.

Garfield: The guy should have gotten a raise.  The tweet is about the community – it made a human connection.  Are we engaging as people or as brand messangers?

Singh: if Chrysler had their other 300k employees tweeting about what they think about driving in Detroit that would have been authentic about the brand and the city.

Eastman: in 1990 Iraq invaded Saudi Arabia and they managed to keep it secret from the populace of Saudis – now the social media transparency makes that impossible.

Monson: employee social media policies.  Write as if your boss isn’t reading over your shoulder.  As consumers we are very good at avoiding advertising.

Eastman: Should a cereal have a twitter account?

Monson: but who are the 1100 followers?  Are they relevant to the brand? [these guys never work in a niche].

Singh: I don’t think the number of followers are a measure of active engagement.  I think we all need to ask Twitter and Facebook to move away from followers as the core metric.  But daily engagement or active engagement gives much more value.  Can they improve the public metrics?

Monson: is there a direct relation between attention and quality of writing.  The Internet is tooled to respond to ‘awesome’ not to respond to quality and it could be terrible.

Eastman: there’s a backlash beginning with un-friending happening.


Schwartzkopf new home page is all focused on content (Oscars hair styles) all produced by Conde Nast editors.  After 4 weeks we have 10x more usage.  Is it the wrong idea to employ journalists in agencies?

Clark: Use custom publishers, second bring someone in-house to cross fertilise to colleagues; or freelance writers.  Brands can do the same thing.

TimeWarnerCable Blogger – what’s the best way to teach people storytelling skills that doesn’t just say ‘this sucks’?

Monson: Are you doing conversation monitoring?  Pick up themes and how you turn those into contents that can draft off what your readers are talking about.  You need a mix of proactive and reactive content.  You guys have gotten involved with me when I was in despair from my twitter feed. You encourage me to complain by responding to me.  Is this a good idea?

Singh: One role of customer journalist and social media can’t be merged.  The training for customer journalist is not the same as customer support.  Acknowledge the differences.

Garfield: I disagree the public sees one brand, Pepsi not separate job titles.

We’ve been takling about content creation not about journalism “non-fiction” content by brands.

Monson: I agree.  What about non-fiction narrative as a definition of journalism.

Clark: if done right you are holding up a lens to show what’s happening in the world.  Ad agencies put vaseline on the lens andgetting them to buy in is a key change.

Eastman: we are talking about agencies and brands doing things in a different way – agency hire different skills.  Ultimately what you call it doesn’t’ matter.  We know there’s an interest in doing this.  Clients think they can do it themselves.  When we talk about editorial calendars, real time responsiveness, the implications of legal then they realise they need an agency.

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