Friday, 8 October 2010

The brand commissioning editor

I wrote some stuff a few weeks ago about the big structural shifts in how people get paid for creating stuff. Quick summary is that twenty years ago if you wanted to make a living writing then you needed to seek employment with a big publisher who could monetise that content by selling ads to brands who wanted their ads to appear next to it. Or you wrote the ads themselves. Nowadays brands are becoming increasingly less bothered about buying ads, and so big publishers are struggling to invest in lots of content (this is why the Times has just laid off another batch of journalists, and why the Observer contains half as many pages as 3 years ago)

The obvious solution for people who want to make their living writing is to cut out this middle man and work directly for a brand. From a marketing perspective this is tried and tested in direct mail departments, who write direct mail copy for the finance and charity sectors. But not in the sense of making a brand culturally relevant by actually becoming part of culture t
he way that The Sun, Loaded, Heat or Viz did in years gone by, or that ASOS or Drowned In Sound do today. To do that a brand would need to appoint a commissioning editor for their bit of the internet - as ASOS did last week, recruiting Melissa Dick from

(Slight diversion - 'their bit of the internet' is a pretty ungainly phrase, but it is important to differentiate from 'their website/their Facebook page/their YouTube channel' - if you think of these as separate then you're missing most of the point of internet publishing)

The benefits to a brand in doing this are in two places. Search and Social. So the two places that have any importance to brands who want to make a bit of the internet - as these are the two places that brand can gain new attention.
Writing and filming genuinely interesting content of cultural relevance to the brand and its audience is difficult for brands, as they have rarely thought about long form cultural content before (I realise I'm doing a disserve to customer publishers here - I've become very interested in customer publishing recently), and they don't know where to go to get it.

But as outlined above, there are lots of freelance journalists around with fewer big publisher gigs available. What was missing was the marketplace. Which is where Sabotage Times comes in. Sabotage is the brainchild of Loaded founder James Brown - and while at first glance it looks like a rich and interesting website, that is really a facade for a new media model - the website is basically a shop window for writers to sell archive material or take new commissions. Initially this has been from publishers - who are used to shopping for archive material. Increasingly it will be for brands who understand to role of cultural relevance in how they optimise and promote their internet presences.

I'd suggest that most brands ought to be thinking along the ASOS route of appointing someone to run a content strategy - someone who starts to move towards a Chief Culture Officer role - but anyone in this position will still need the resources available through market like Sabotage Times, and the way that the site and the syndication agency is structured make it easy for brands to start taking their first steps towards commissioning content.

(Full disclosure - I used to work for James a long time ago at IFG)

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Exactly what it says on the tin

Y'know what i don't write about that often? Brands that 'just' make really good stuff. That's a bit hypocritical considering how many times I use throwaway lines like 'advertising is a tax on crap products', and then spend most of my time thinking about advertising. 15 years ago when Ronseal marketed their products as doing 'exactly what is says on the tin', it was just an advertising slogan - men who painted their own fences thought they saw through advertising was and it didn't have any effect on them, so here was a brand taking an anti-advertising position. Very smart, in the sense that it positioned a category leader against every other category in which advertising played a part, while tapping into what made DIY fans proud.

As a fairly cynical person, I tend to believe that most products are likely to be a bit rubbish, and I've been backed to the hilt in this belief over the years in buying trainers. Trainers fall apart in weeks rather than months, which has always led me to believe that you are paying for brand marketing, and getting an undifferentiated product. I gave up wearing them for a while after another £80 pair of shoes fell apart within a month. So when i discovered that Camper offered 2 year guarantees on their trainers, I took this as a never-ending supply of free shoes. They are still going strong 18 months later, and while the cynic in me is proud to admit he's wrong, I'm also happy to have a great example of how making good stuff is a big part of the battle of selling it. And also pleased to have several more pairs of Camper shoes.

(Full disclosure - I haven't ever worked for Camper or for any agency that works for them....)