Content marketing is older than most digital marketers think. Periodicals, especially those concerned with lifestyle or health, have always included info about available products. Eighteenth century journals detail the perruquiers just as today’s Cosmopolitan features this or that celebrity stylist.
Doubtless, some products these journals mention are because of editorial, or *gasp,* writers’ interest. Most of the time, though, coverage arranges itself by a hierarchy of income and a silo of hype. This includes reader interest, sure. More interest means more subscribers, at best, and greater recognition at worst. Advertiser return, obviously, is also a major facet. These two elements are often in the back of many reader’s minds.
Media, though, also has other revenue streams. Among the biggest are paid endorsements- celebrities, influencers, or organizations being paid to use, or even mention, products. Once thought to be a static part of advertising, such endorsements are becoming both more prevalent and more obscure. In turn, this is changing how readers both interpret content and act on it -regardless of the source.
The Past: A Glossy Veneer and Who Knows What
Publications were less numerous in the past. Along with word-of-mouth, competition primarily happened via distribution: rack space, retailers, libraries, etc.
Such presence does more than enable consumption -it creates an expectation for authenticity. Readers often believe their favorite publications’ stories and opinions are accurate and comprehensive. That the laptops they mention are, in fact, the best for their price range. That some celebrity actually does like their new $500 keffiyeh…and that the writer is sharing their actual opinion about that. That a gas pipeline some journalist advocates for is, indeed, the only or best option for a region’s infrastructure.
What magazine readers do not typically expect is misrepresentation or distortion. In effect, customers are paying to trust something. Publications in the past were often presumed to be bearers of truth, arbiters of taste, and upholders of the public interest. The products, industries, politicians, etc., that traditional media covered/endorsed was because they were of interest, not because they signed a check.
Publications with a following prior Web 2.0 still enjoy these benefits. Who challenges the legitimacy of The Economist or The New Yorker or Vogue? These esteemed magazines presumably hire the “crème de la crème,” the top thinkers and journalists in their fields. We think their professional scrutiny distances them from hype and offers greater clarity into an event, person, or thing. Their actual media strategies, however, belie an entirely different approach. If anything, diving into the hype is a new essential that hastens output while maximizing attention.
Online Strategies, New Revenue Streams, Offline Prestige
Transitioning online was shaky for many print magazines and other periodicals. Not only was there an entirely new system of style and layout, there was also the question of monetization. Sentences became shorter while references became more nuanced -all hail the almighty link!
Before anything, though, there is the question of the headline. Internet media, if anything, proves that sensationalism attracts curiosity. Credence? Nah. Nor trust. Instead, online outlets find it far more profitable to cater towards belief. This means less time/money for investigating or exploring and more time writing snap judgments.
In fact, many print periodicals adopted online strategies in the 2000s, if only in an attempt maintain their dwindling subscribers’ lists. Sometimes they tried rectifying this with old standards. However, no publisher can afford to ignore that most readers would rather click on headlines they want to believe. Those willing to pay for a periodical they trust is shrinking and becoming more niche.
The discord between trust, credence, and journalistic practice is reaching a most…publicized high. Part 2 will cover how traditional media’s leveraging of pre-internet prestige is directly conflicting this its methodology…while also feeding into content marketing funnels.
Picture courtesy of Ken Hawkins via Creative Commons