We've talked a good deal in this space about converged media, the blending of paid, owned, and earned in digital channels. Now it appears a sound barrier of sorts has been shattered with the selection of a native ad that Dell created for Forbes.com for publication in an actual book.
This month, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published "The Best American Infographics 2013," which includes an illustration that Dell published on its Forbes BrandVoice page in April 2012. The credit reads "Dell Inc. on Forbes.com."
Dell Managing Editor Stephanie Losee regards this as a watershed moment for content marketing. "In other words, one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world just called Dell a publisher, and they did it because of what we posted on our DellVoice page. Native advertising, meet traditional publishing."
"As far as I know," Losee told me, "This is the first time a traditional publisher has affirmed sponsored content as editorial, particularly as prestigious a publishing house as Houghton Mifflin. They were fully aware of the source. They knew it was native advertising, yet still selected the graphic and gave us credit."
Dell was one of Forbes' first BrandVoice (then AdVoice) companies. When Losee assumed responsibility for the content, she decided to use it as a showcase for Dell's thought leadership on a variety of topics, one being productivity.
A former journalist and editor, Losee is on what she terms a "rejobination" mission: to get writers and creative talent to move "where the money is."
"My goal is to hire the best of the best and use my budget to pay them for the same content traditional publications can no longer afford. Brands can now pay for the work of artists and journalists and writers, and pay them directly." She invited Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Ellison to write about how ignoring email in a strategic way increases productivity, and she engaged an established illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, to create the infographic. This resulted in 30,000 page views, 950 Facebook posts, 450 tweets, and 360 LinkedIn shares. The illustration was republished by The Boston Globe, Gizmodo, and a host of other sites (now including this one), each time with Dell's name attached.
Losee is quick to point out the content has nothing to do with Dell or its products, but it does support the message that Dell helps its customers to "Do More."
Clearly the email infographic has enjoyed an unusual amount of amplification, traction, and sharing. But is there any evidence this is actually helping the brand? I asked Losee how she measures initiatives such as this one.
"The book helps Dell in exactly the same sense an ad would. What ROI were you getting from an ad in a magazine to begin with?" she asks rhetorically. "The book is another place where you see name and keep brand top of mind. It reaches a buyer who is very erudite, the type of person who would want to own this book. I regard it as the most exotic advertisement ever!"
Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.
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