When it comes to content marketing, what’s old is new again.
Although the term reached a buzzworthy peak in recent years — possibly spurred on by Seth Godin’s 2008 comment that content marketing is “all the marketing that’s left” — the concept has actually been around since the late 1800s. You may know it by other names: custom publishing, brand journalism and brand publishing.
Content marketing campaigns evolve alongside their respective industries. With modern-day supermarkets came creative in-store product displays with free recipe books; before inflight movies and Wi-Fi, airlines captivated and entertained audiences with branded magazines; hotel magazines such as those published by St. Regis help brands relate to their customers and further establish them as leaders in luxury.
One of the earliest adopters of brand publishing was agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere. The company printed the first issue of its custom magazine, The Furrow, in 1895. The publication is still in print: What began as an almost entirely advertorial “journal for the American farmer” is now a trusted industry resource that comes in tablet format, too. Its circulation once reached more than 4 million consumers; today that number hovers around 2 million globally, with approximately 570,000 readers in the U.S. and Canada.
In the 1960s, Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil was known for its “Mobil Travel Guide,” a series of regional travel books that helped families plan road trips by rating the destination’s top hotels, restaurants and other attractions. Forbes recently took over the guides, which remain in print but have a much stronger international and digital component now.
In 2000, Proctor & Gamble found success with the teen girl crowd — an audience that’s notoriously difficult to reach — with the launch of BeingGirl.com. The microsite feels more like a traditional teen magazine, with a “big sister approach” to expert advice, self-discovery quizzes and user-generated content. The results speak volumes: Forrester Research found the site to be four times more effective than traditional advertising.
Content marketing may shift in the media and platforms it uses (and even go through the occasional identity crisis!) but history proves it is tried and true.