Monthly Archives: March 2013

Flipboard and the New Way to Make a Branded Magazine

Brands have long found it valuable to publish their own magazines. Mack Trucks, for instance, has published its Bulldog magazine since 1920. I features the kinds of things fans of Mack Trucks might like — photo shoots of vintage Macks, features on unusual heroics by Mack trucks, stories that might be helpful to participants in the trucking culture.

But a problem with magazines — print or online — is that good ones are expensive to create. Produce a magazine on a tight budget, and you end up with something that looks and reads like a neighborhood association newsletter.

That’s why this new rev from Flipboard is interesting. Until now, Flipboard had been a very slick way to pull stories and photos and social media posts from the web and automatically have them assembled into something that looks like your own personalized magazine for a tablet or phone. The new version allows anyone to not only assemble a digital magazine — but publish it.

This may seem, at first, to appeal to the Pinterest crowd — a way for an individual to curate stuff he or she likes and broadcast it to the world.

But it seems to me that brands could look at this as a way to create a hot-looking magazine on a shoestring. Sure, the brand would probably want some of its own writing and photography. Easy enough — set up a blog that Flipboard could pull from. But then, use Flipboard to mix home-grown content with relevant content from around the web — from blogs, traditional media, YouTube and so on.

Instead of having to spend money to fill a whole magazine, a brand could focus the budget on creating a few great pieces of home-grown content, and fill out the rest with web-based content. If curated well, the result on Flipboard could look like some of the nicest branded magazines anywhere.

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IBM on Brand by VSA

I’ve written about IBM for a long, long time, including two books about the company. I’ve been affiliated with VSA Partners, a branding and design firm, for the past few years.

This is a short film VSA produced about IBM’s approach to branding, featuring the current steward of that brand, IBM’s Jon Iwata. I think Jon perfectly captures the culture behind IBM’s brand.

Interestingly, that approach to branding has led IBM to create “branded content” throughout its history, ranging from its old THINK magazine to books, websites and YouTube videos today.

NYT’s Ricochet: A New Wrinkle in Branded Journalism

Instead of a brand creating journalistic content, what if a brand could borrow and share some of the best content created by actual journalists?

That’s what Ricochet, an intriguing new tool from The New York Times, is making possible. The newspaper first unveiled the tool last year and used it internally, but this week NYT announced that other media companies — Forbes, Conde Nast, Time Inc. — will also use it. No doubt NYT will sell Ricochet widely, and it could become an important part of the way branded journalism works.

Ricochet allows a brand to buy an ad next to an online story. But the ad only appears when that brand shares the story through a specially-generated link. If others in turn share that link, they’ll see the brand’s ad, too.

If the Times writes a story about cloud computing, SAP — which, incidentally, helped develop Ricochet — can use Ricochet to buy an ad to run with that story when SAP shares it. So if SAP tweets the story or posts it on Facebook or its SAP website, anyone who clicks on it sees an SAP ad along with the story. Significantly, points out NYT’s R&D chief Michael Zimbalist, Ricochet guarantees that readers won’t click the story that SAP shared and see an ad from an SAP competitor.

Using Ricochet does something else: It doubles down on a brand’s support for a story. Yes, it’s sharing it. And now it’s also, in a way, financing it.

The best branded journalism doesn’t “sell” — it develops a market. Bicycle apparel company Rapha hired journalists and started Rouleur, a biking magazine. The magazine doesn’t write about Rapha’s stuff — it writes about hard-core biking. If it can help generate more bikers, there will be more people around to buy Rapha’s stuff.

So it makes sense for an SAP to encourage excitement about cloud computing. Or a Tourneau to celebrate high-end watches. A good way for brands to do these kinds of things is to circulate credible, authentic, journalistic content about the topics their constituents care about.

One way to do that is to create content yourself — a la Rouleur. But that’s not always easy and not in many brands’ DNA.

Ricochet seems to usher in a new era of brands being able to easily buy into legitimate journalism created by media outlets, and redistribute it in a way that lets everyone win. The brand gets to associate itself with market-building journalism; the journalistic organization makes more money so it can continue producing such stories; and the public gets content it likes and values.

It will be interesting to see what happens as Ricochet becomes more widely offered.

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Paid Content Has No Rules, So Behave

When institutions blow apart, the old rules give way to something that’s more like no rules. Which is pretty much where we are in journalistic branded content.

In that environment, brands have to be careful and behave, or they could find themselves losing the public’s trust.

The old structure of the media industry had its flaws. But when news and information flowed through traditional newspapers and magazines, trained journalists imposed a shared code of law, especially when it came to things like conflicts of interest, separating advertisers from coverage, and objectivity. Same with books and publishing houses, though book editors generally had a different set of standards from journalists.

If those institutions were gatekeepers, the gates have been obliterated by storming mobs. Instead of pitchforks, they’ve come bearing Web news sites, blogs, Twitter, self-publishing, Kindle Singles, etc. The democratization of media has been wonderful and eye-opening in so many ways, but there’s also this: Some in the storming mobs have a lot of money to spend and a motivation to use it in ways the old journalists usually squashed.

Case in point: the government of Malaysia. Last week, the story surfaced that Malaysia paid 10 media columnists – who wrote for outlets such as Huffington Post and National Review – to write pieces smearing an opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. With a hunger for content and less scrutiny of what they publish, Web news sites are particularly vulnerable to this kind of thing.

We’ve seen instances of Twitter abuse. Lots of questions have been raised about celebrities getting paid by companies to tweet about their products – with no disclosure about the arrangement. Rainn Wilson got called out for pitching del Taco on the sly.

Lately stories have surfaced about schemes to manipulate bestseller lists so books like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness looks like it zooms to the top.

Who knows how much of this goes unreported and unseen. So the temptation can be great for brands to sponsor content in sneaky ways.

But then, getting outed is a bitch. Anything pro-Malaysia in any news outlet is now suspect. Any celebrity mention of del Taco will raise an eyebrow.

In this new environment, brands have to be guardians of their own credibility. The best way to do that is to be as transparent and noble as possible when it comes to journalistic content. Don’t try to trick us. Yes, a brand may get away with it, but if we do find out, the brand will lose our trust. That’s not worth it.

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