This week, Advertising Age ran an editorial to argue “Why marketers shouldn’t be afraid of the C-word”. Here, “C” is short for “commercial”, a word Ad Age feels has been put at risk by a move toward “content marketing”:
“Marketers are trying to distance themselves from the notion that they make commercials as they embrace content marketing to better engage targets, break through clutter and avoid being skipped by consumers.”
Ad Age concludes, “Consumers know an ad when they see one — no matter what its creator calls it.”
Maybe so, but I think there may well be a group that should worry about the growth of content marketing: ad-supported periodical publishers. Custom publishing gives advertisers a chance to keep content and cut out the middleman.
A current warning sign: Last week, private-equity investor Wicks Group announced that it had bought two well-known custom-content firms, McMurry and TMG (The Magazine Group), with a plan to combine them. The new firm, McMurry/TMG, is said to have annual revenues of around US$100 million.
In explaining the merger, TMG’s president (and the merged company’s new CEO) Matt Peterson noted:
“As brands more and more take on the characteristics of media and need expert stewardship of that content, the more we are going to be a terrific value to them.”
Major publishers (and some smaller ones) have responded to this trend by creating custom-publishing units of their own. Meredith, Hearst, Time Inc. and (in a more limited way) Conde Nast all offer services of some sort, with Meredith generally considered the largest among them. In some ways, these divisions are in competition with their ad-driven brethren for a mix of marketing dollars.
In one move, Wicks Group has created a company only slightly smaller than Meredith, likely with little of the corporate overhead that comes with being part of an ad-driven periodical publisher. More daunting: McMurry/TMG isn’t conflicted when it comes to branded content. They serve only their marketing clients.