Native ads and custom content are here to stay but some advertisers are also going all in and creating their own slick digital magazines. There are lots of platforms doing native ads well - these days brands are also taking that model and creating their own platforms and filling them with their branded and curated content.
At first, this could sound like a recipe for disaster, or at least a recipe with uneven results. But surprisingly, not only is brand publishing proliferating, it’s also looking pretty darn good. This is partly due to the investment some brands are making into their own content creation — why issue a press release and wait for an understaffed news outlet to pay attention when you can hire a journalist or two and a video crew and do it yourself?
Big-shot brands like GE and Red Bull used to be the only ones who can do this right, but either the barrier to entry has been lowered or other brands are willing to invest because creating content to be shared across social media has become increasingly important.
Here’s a rundown on some top brands doing interesting things with brand publishing:
Vans — With its #LivingOffTheWall series, Vans is taking its role as a sneaker brand for skateboarders into a multimedia documentary series branded with a hashtag for easy sharing. Want to know about Chinese skateboarders? You didn’t think you did, but you do now.
Red Bulletin — Red Bull is so confident and comfortable reaching out beyond its role as a brand of energy drink that its Red Bulletin site is more lifestyle magazine than sneaky advertising. Sure, Red Bulletin highlights action athletes the brand sponsors, like skateboarder Ryan Sheckler, but also interviews rappers like Nas. Red Bull already knows it owns its market; branded content is just a way to give their audience even more of what they know they want.
Real Business — What better way for Xerox to get involved than to build a site devoted to business news, which it has with Real Business. Of course, there might be a downside to this if Real Business gets caught in a plagiarism or aggregation controversy because Xerox might be vulnerable as a brand to jokes about, you know, copying things.
The Window — The entry from Barney’s, the high-end fashion retailer, goes back to its roots with The Window, a nod at the old-school art of enticing customers in off the street with attractive window displays in department stores. Remember them? With articles about how best to wear multiple earrings, behind-the-scenes visits to designers’ workshops and fashion tips from fashion celebs, this is a great site for the kind of person who would like a site like that.
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CMO — Adobe, the software design maker behind Photoshop and PDF’s, are now in the branded content business, and they have determined that their niche is to own the CMO of every company with content directed straight to them with CMO. Makes sense.
Exploration — Tucked away in a corner of The North Face’s larger web presence, Exploration takes North Face’s gear out into the elements and combines it with adventure and sweet multimedia production. It’s not a stand-alone branded site, but offers great content geared to promoting its brand.
GE Pressing — Remember that one thing that you’ve always been told: “For the love of all that’s holy, keep your brand out of politics!”? Right, well GE heard that too, and said, “How about we do the opposite?” Introducing GE #Pressing, which is all about the pressing political issues of the day. The site aggregates the “stories, opinions and topics expressed by publishers/individuals” on topics that range from Obama Care and national security to peace in the middleeast - with the caveat that the stories it collects “may not necessarily reflect the views of GE.”
IQ — Intel’s IQ is another site devoted to innovation, with the subtle underlying message that all this innovation is being done using Intel’s processors. From “coaching with a tablet” to “My Robot is Cuter than Yours,” it might not be the hardest hitting news on the innovation beat, but its content designed to be shared.
Coca-Cola — Unlike brands that promote their branded content on a portion of their site, the Coca-Cola Company has made its front page into BuzzFeed with a sugar and caffeine buzz. It’s your place for content if you’re looking for summertime happiness, share a coke videos, and other feel-good and fun Americana.
Pepsi — “Me too!” says PepsiCo, but unlike Coke, the Pepsi Pulse is a side item on the company URL, not the main course. But it’s still the place to go if you love Pepsi and want to know who the hottest country music acts of 2014 are.
Tablespoon — Look all over this well-designed recipe site for General Mills, the maker of the brands featured here, and you won’t find it. Tablespoon bills itself as a Pinterest-style how-to for creative cooks looking to make something great at home. And it is. Only that all the brands it features are its own.