Content Marketing: The Rise of Pseudo-Journalists
Content marketing (CM), or pseudo-journalistic communications by companies, is becoming increasingly common online. Corporations fill their online magazines, YouTube videos, and apps with content that is largely useful and entertaining. Slowly but surely, they are also seeking to position themselves politically. In this way, companies are increasingly influencing the formation of public opinion. CM thus represents an attack on the traditional media as well as on citizen journalism.
From the mass media to the media of the massive organisations[JB1] !? Public communication has been in a process of redefinition for years – in large part through the rise of citizen media. Yet for some time, companies too have increasingly produced their own “journalism”. Corporations want to elicit favourable opinions within their target groups primarily with “useful” information disseminated through online magazines, YouTube videos, apps, and other digital channels. In some cases, they’re not openly identified as the originator of the messages.
This new form of content-driven corporate communication is called content marketing (CM). Red Bull and Coca Cola have served as influential models in the PR sector, but E-Plus’ digital magazine Curved, and BMW’s comprehensive CM activities have also led the way. However, the general public is for the most part unfamiliar with the new “technique”. For this reason, many citizens use CM offerings more than they might otherwise – mostly without realising it. No surprise, then, that the pseudo-journalistic speech makes it increasingly difficult for normal media consumers to recognize what has an interest-driven agenda and what doesn’t.
Today, the corporations for the most part fill their channels with useful and entertaining content. However, Daimler, Evonik, KPMG, Haniel and other large companies are slowly but surely seeking to position themselves as political thought leaders. Content marketing may therefore have serious consequences, as a particular kind of alternative public sphere comes gradually into being. This could very significantly undermine the media’s central task of criticism and oversight in the formation of public opinion. Companies’ primary interest is in selling their products, within an economic system that is to the greatest possible degree stable and societally accepted. With CM, they are aggressively pushing their values into the societal realm (using “freedom” in their commercial speech to refer to the freedom to consume, etc.). By contrast, critical reporting necessarily operates as a disruptive political factor.
Prof. Dr. Lutz Frühbrodt, Programme Director Specialist Journalism and Corporate Communication, University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt