When content marketing misses the mark

Content marketing. It’s the catchall phrase used to label creating content and experiences people want to consume, while also conveying a brand message. At its core is the premise that highly targeted quality content begs to be shared. But, what about when it misses the mark?

For Wendy’s, the premise of creating quality content to promote their new range of salads and appeal to health-conscious consumers who would ordinarily overlook the fast food chain, was certainly behind their video campaign that launched in March this year.

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Promoting its new line of salads, under the banner ‘Girlfriends at Wendy’s Eating Salad & Talking About Stuff.’ The unscripted videos feature a pair of friends named Leigh and Angie talking about what girls talk about when they’re eating a Wendy’s salad.

The videos suggest that girlfriends have nothing better to discuss beyond fashion, fitness, boys and blue cheese. The videos are not humourous, clever, or entertaining. Nor are they interesting in any way that I could discern. And as for authentic? Even I noticed that the girls wore the same outfits in every episode. Who does that?

Not surprisingly, these videos have been dissed  on YouTube and around social media in general. While the comments have been disabled on YouTube, on other platforms, women have asked, “WHAT IS THIS? How and Why would Wendy’s ever think this is a good idea?”

However, the videos have certainly been noticed. At the time of writing, the six episodes in this series have clocked up more than 613,000 views. As to whether they are truly in tune with their target audience of women aged 25 to 34, I can only hazard a guess that they are not.

While full stats are not available, the six videos have acquired a total of 36 likes compared to a resounding 839 thumb-downs. I think what this content marketing campaign amounts to is old fashioned advertising. Wendy’s is not offering anything in the way of entertainment value in exchange for asking you to sit through these overly-long commercials. It’s certainly not something you would feel compelled to share with your friends.


Context is everything

Love them or hate them, native ads are everywhere. When they are done well, they are useful and relevant to consumers and cost efficient and effective for the brands that produce them.

But for native ads to work, context is everything. The native ad has to fit in with the editorial patter and resonate with the audience’s way of thinking. It’s all about standing out, by not standing out!

Last year, The Atlantic copped a bashing when it ran sponsored content celebrating the ‘milestone’ year The Church of Scientology experienced in 2012.  While the piece was classified as “sponsored content”, as native advertising, it looked just like any other regular story that is posted on the website.

For a publication like The Atlantic, which has built its reputation on incisive, thought-provoking journalism, this piece of fluffy advertorial was completely out of character and wholly out of place.

Many readers were duped into thinking they were reading editorial content from the Atlantic itself and vented their rage on Twitter.

In terms of native advertising, this piece failed because it clearly wasn’t what The Atlantic‘s audience would find interesting, or take seriously. It’s a bit like turning on the ABC’s 7:30 Report expecting to see Walkley Award-winning  reporter Sarah Ferguson tackling Joe Hockey about The Budget, but getting Tracey Grimshaw on the latest fad diet.

The Atlantic took down the post pending a review of its policies and posted an apology. As one reader put it, “It was a dumb move on the part of The Atlantic to pimp their credibility in return for a small amount of money.”


Content excellence

Then there’s Coca-Cola.

In the words of Jonathan Mildenhall, former SVP Integrated Marketing Content and Design Excellence at Coca-Cola, “Content is the substance or matter of brand engagement and brand conversation. Anything that can allow a consumer to engage with your brand or converse about your brand becomes content. So content should be wrapped around everything.”

In 2012, looking beyond Facebook Likes for a way to engage with its audience, the brand spearheaded its Content 2020 advertising strategy in the form of revamping its main website into its own media outlet – Journey – using an editorial, image-heavy format.

The brand has also famously shifted their advertising focus from creative excellence to content excellence.

According to Journey co-managing editor, Jay Moye, in 2013, Journey published 1,200 articles and attracted 13.1 million visitors who spent around 4:40 minutes per article,

Yet, Mark Higginson, who is the social media manager at the University of Brighton, made some brave and interesting observations about the Journey site on the sparksheet blog.

He reviewed 87 posts on the site to see the extent to which people engage with the content and documented the number of shares to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn from each post. He discovered, “The average number of shares from a post to Facebook was 238, to LinkedIn, 103 and to Twitter, 42. Each post averaged eight comments and two-thirds of posts received no comments at all.”

Higginson suggested, “It is worth pausing for a moment to consider the implications: One of the biggest brands in the world generates next to no interaction through its primary window to the world.”

In a swift rebuttal, Ashley Brown, Journey’s team leader, insisted that the surest measure of ‘engagement’ isn’t a social share, but the time spent on the page consuming the content.

Brown wrote, “You asked why we’ve invested in Journey? Because it’s working.”


Simon van Wyk
BY Simon van Wyk ON 28 May 2014
Founder, HotHouse Interactive. Tweet him @Hot_House