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Mad Men not required: Branded content enters new era

John Krasinski is joining Mad Men! Nah, just kidding. But he is joining the ranks of content marketers. Now he and I have something in common to discuss the next time we both attend the same dinner party. (Kidding, again!)

The Office actor and his business partner are producing a series of humorous videos for Bud Light called “Hold My Beer.” They’re meant for YouTube and social media.

Krasinski told the New York Times that this is all great because “it gives actors, writers and directors a ‘bite-size’ creative outlet in addition to longer-form content like movies and television shows.”

English: John Krasinski - Inside "The Off...
John Krasinski(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s true for journalists as well, I might add. It’s an opportunity that’s only going to become greater in 2014. The Custom Content Council says that content marketing is already an almost $44 billion market, and Hanley Wood Business Media says that 78% of chief marketing officers believe custom content is the future of marketing.

But content marketing is going to have to evolve into brand journalism, with higher standards for quality and balanced storytelling that are closer to news journalism. Recently, the FTC warned advertisers that it would “vigorously enforce its rules against misleading advertising.” In its crosshairs is native advertising or sponsored content, which is content written by or for advertisers that is displayed as if it’s actual news content.

The problem with native advertising is obvious: it has the potential to slant in the advertiser’s favor. Readers may or may not get the full story. Sure, it could be argued – successfully – that most news media companies produce biased content. But there’s usually another media outlet to balance the scale.

For brand content, that may or may not be true, and it’s tempting for marketers to omit the fact that their competitor sells a better, faster, safer, cheaper version of their product. Or that they’ve got a lawsuit pending.

The FTC wants marketers and news outlets to make it clear to readers that sponsored content is really advertising. Yet apparently consumers aren’t all that discerning. A third don’t care whether something is advertising or editorial, and many would click through if they knew it was an ad, according to research by David J. Franklyn, a professor at the University of San Francisco law school.

In a way, this isn’t surprising, and I suspect consumers are going to care even less over time. Generation Live – the newest generation – trust brands online more than previous generations. But here’s the catch: Gen Live only trusts authentic brands. That means honesty does matter – and hiring freelance journalists to produce objective, balanced content will put a brand ahead of its competition.

This is why John Krasinski’s move into content marketing is so refreshing. With actors and journalists moving into the content marketing space, consumers will benefit from more meaningful and less sales-y media. Marketers will love it, because an interested audience is a profitable one.

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