Sure, Dove captured everyone’s attention with its Evolution “viral” video, which, like a good old-fashioned expose, revealed the manipulation behind images of “beauty.” This trend of brands creating content for the web dates back to the short films that BMW commissioned in 2001 and 2002 (and I’m sure further back than that, depending on how you define the trend).
Now that every brand is jumping on the bandwagon to be a content creator to compete in the intensifying war over consumer attention, you have to wonder whether brands can really compete as content creators, lodged between traditional “professional” content creators and the newly empowered army of “users” generating content.
Here’s an example that crystallized this question (via Washington Post):
“Look, Roy, it’s a job. You know, the thing people do for money that they wouldn’t normally do otherwise. I know you need the dough.”
I looked at the envelope stuffed with cash and considered it. After a few seconds, I said, “Five-day minimum, plus expenses.”
If every man has his price, as this gumshoe admits, then his creator’s was the use of a Lexus and an undisclosed sum of money — more than a modest book advance but less than what he would get for an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” says Los Angeles writer Mark Haskell Smith. The serial novel he penned is a promotion for the Japanese luxury automaker, which, after some intense focus-grouping, decided that potboiler fiction would be a great advertising hook to reach a younger, hipper client base.
On the one hand, this content was created by a professional writer, so it’s not like a fake blog or other brand misadventures that pretend to be something they’re not. It just so happens that the crime story is about a missing Lexus.
Now, I suppose if you’re a die-hard Lexus fan, you might devote some time to reading a serial novel about your beloved car brand. But I have to wonder whether non-Lexus fans are going to allocate some of their precious media time to an ad masquerading as fiction — which is what this is.
I’ll concede that I can’t really fault Lexus and any other brands for taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to competing for consumer attention. But you have to wonder whether consumers will opt for branded entertainment when there are so many other types of entertainment proliferating and competing for their attention.
Or maybe prospective Lexus owners will be more than happy to opt in to skimming through a bit of pulp fiction rather than being bombarded by a traditional ad. I suppose it’s all a matter of degrees.
Certainly, it’s a sobering reality for independent content creators, like bloggers, who not only have to compete with other independents and traditional media companies, but with brands as well.
And here’s another X factor — I tried searching for “Lexus” on YouTube and found this Gizmodo video of a Lexus that automatically parallel parks itself. It has 417,383 views. It’s also the #5 Google search result for Lexus.
You just can’t manufacture content-based advertising like this?
Or can you?
Scott Karp creates content at Publishing 2.0.