One of the top trends in the marketing world since 2012 has been brand journalism. In fact, the Public Relations Society of America listed brand journalism as #10 in the “Top 12 trends in Public Relations (PRSA).” More and more consumers have been opening their eyes to the marketing and advertising façade and have learned to tune out any company that tries to sell them a product, which in turn, has negatively impacted businesses everywhere. In order to gain back the trust that has been lost, marketing strategists have developed a new way to approach customers. Since most people won’t dive in and buy any old product without consulting the opinions of those around them, PR has used that to their advantage and created new communication styles to make readers want to know more about their products and services without feeling pressured to buy them. By advertising in a journalistic-style, companies are able to connect with their audience while still being able to get their sales pitch across. Brand journalism has also made advertising publicists spend their money more efficiently by being strategic with pertinent content rather than print ads or commercials that could or could not reach a specific audience because the atmosphere of that advertisement is not as manageable. Over time, consumers became so accustomed to the predictable advertisements and digital pamphlets that they naturally began to block them out.
Back in June of 2004, McDonald’s announced their use of brand journalism, explaining that “no single ad could tell the whole multi-dimensional story” and approached their “I’m lovin’ it” campaign the same way a magazine editor would approach a new story idea (Light). Before brand journalism, major companies would approach PR firms to write press releases and contact traditional journalists to hopefully write stories in favor of the companies. Now, with this new marketing strategy, companies can skip all of that and create their own articles, blogs, websites, social media, and countless other communication pitches, to provide their viewers with exactly what they want them to know. Why hire a group of promoters when the company can do it themselves?
Traditional journalists look down upon brand journalism because to them, journalism should be about staying objective on the subject at hand, meaning both sides of the story should be displayed not just the positive. However, the controversy comes in when you ask what journalism really is. CEO of Brand Journalists, a website whose sole purpose is brand journalism, states in an article that journalism is ultimately about earning and keeping a reader’s interest (Scott). Journalist Jessica Bennett was interviewed on the matter of working for a company approaching the trending marketing strategy. She proclaims that “the biggest annoyance for me was trying to prove to people – sources, media colleagues, my parents – that I was still a ‘real’ journalist” (Freidman, “Columbia Journalism Review”). After working for working for many years at journalistic firms like the Village Voice, Bennett took on the position as executive editor for Storyboard, a magazine owned by the popular blogging community Tumblr. She explained that this magazine wasn’t just pure public relations, that she had all of the freedom she had as a journalist, however everything she wrote about had to be tied back to Tumblr. But it wasn’t until the founder of Tumblr, David Karp, terminated Storyboard, as well as fired Bennett, did she realize how much attention brand journalism was receiving. She was immediately approached by other large corporations trying to adapt to this new marketing strategy. Many other corporations like this one have taken up the idea to hire traditional journalists to keep the “news” as authentic and true to the values of journalism, but that is not always the case.
Why traditional journalists are all up in arms about this controversy is because it is basically implying that marketers have taken the role of a journalist when in fact, they don’t necessarily live up to all of the values and integrity that is expected. For example, if someone researches the art of piloting and practices flight simulations, it doesn’t exactly make them a pilot. Journalists believe the same applies to this scenario. Just because marketing corporations study publishing tactics and engage journalistic abilities, it shouldn’t classify them as journalists. Citizen journalists play a huge role in the brand journalism dynamic because they aren’t pressured in any way, they choose to participate in it. They take it upon themselves to create blogs about reviews and ratings on an assortment of products, giving them power to share opinions on product culture, and thus, going one step further into the territory of journalism.
A disadvantage about branded journalism is that it has the possibility of twisting the audience’s outlook of where they should look to for news sources (Maxwell). Nowadays, people seem to only pay attention to articles that have the most tweets on Twitter or the most shares and likes on Facebook. What some find to be a drawback for traditional journalism is that since it is unbiased, the audience come to question whether the articles are meant for them at all. Traditional journalism functions to deliver news-worthy content and in turn, provides a voice not for the people, but for the news. At the same time, people underestimate the reliability branded journalists have. After all, who better to know about the products than the company that created them? David Sasson uses the Home Depot as an example of this. He writes that HD may produce how-to material on fixing your home, while also carrying brand value back to the company, will not diminish the credibility of the information in their article (Bloomberg Business).
There is no doubt that social media has had a huge influence over the way people receive news. Their sense of urgency to receive top stories has journalists rushing to adapt and change the way they report information. Journalists are certain that advertising in journalism wrecks the news while marketers not only see brand journalism as a way to make profit but also as a way to keep many of the magazines up and running. Unlike traditional journalism, it aims to build a certain reliability between a brand and their consumers (Industry Skill Set Analysis). Also while traditional journalists go more in depth and focus on answering all questions such as “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of a specific story, marketers pay more attention to the “why.”
Brand journalism, while receiving so much more publicity now, can actually be traced all the way back to 1895. The popular company John Deere invented The Furrow, a marketing magazine whose target audience is farmers, is still around to this day and surprisingly reaches more than 2 million people across the globe. After that Michelin, the tire manufacturing company saw the potential in this style of advertising and marketing and came up with the Michelin Guide in 1900, which provided useful information to drivers on how to maintain their vehicles as well as finding places to stay while traveling in France. Three years later, Jell-O created and published their first recipe book. Even NASA hopped onto the marketing bandwagon. In 1959, Walter T. Bonney came out with a policy memo that creates an outline his visualization for how the NASA administration will create a new method of approaching public relations. Later that year, NASA teamed up with Life magazine as well as World Book Science Services to have select media exposure of the lives of the astronauts that includes individual stories of their families and reveals the significance of teaming up with traditional media channels. NASA’s experimentation with brand journalism doesn’t end there. In 1963, they try their hand with a slow-scan TV camera in the closing flight mission of Project Mercury. After seeing all of their success, NASA expands their public information staff to 146 employees in 15 different locations in order to keep journalists up to date on the information regarding the Apollo missions. In June of 2011, Cisco the computer networking company launched its own news website. More recently, Coca Cola creates a website for company news which included articles on the environment, entertainment, sports, health, and even opinion columns. In March of 2013, a patient care provider in Chicago, Advocate Health Care, released its own brand journalism website containing information that catches the attention of health reporters across the nation. In December of that same year, a brand journalism story was written about the use of Google Glass in Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center which earned 250 settlements in media outlets across the nation. To top it all off, former CNN bureau Ed Garsten was chosen in February of 2014 to lead Chrysler’s brand journalism team, emphasizing the necessity for company news to be handled by experienced, credentialed journalists (Social Times).
Whether or not people agree with brand journalism as a strategic way of marketing, one thing is for sure: brand journalism as well as traditional journalism has been, and will always, play an increasingly important role in the lives of consumers.
“#PRin2012: 12 Trends That Will Change Public Relations.” #PRin2012: 12 Trends That Will Change Public Relations. PRSAY, 19 Dec. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
Barakat, Christie. “The History of Brand Journalism [Infographic].” SocialTimes. Social Times, 1 June 2014. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.
“Brand Journalism Is a Modern Marketing Imperative.” Advertising Age Guest Columnists RSS. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
Freidman, Ann. “Branded but ‘independent’ Media.” Columbia Journalism Review. Columbia J, 2 May 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
Sasson, David. “Brand Journalism Is One Suspicious Article.” Bloomberg Business Week. Bloomberg, 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
Scott, Thomas. “What Is Brand Journalism? « Brand Journalists.” Brand Journalists. Brand Journalists, 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.
“Traditional Journalists, Brand Journalists Divided In Controversy Over Brand Journalism.” Loren Maxwell. WordPress, 24 May 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.