January 23rd, 2006

Is There Hope for Content Brands?


Beneath all the buzz about Google re-taking the top spot as #1 Global brand is evidence of a worrisome trend for content brands, which supports the theory that Google is a brand killer. If you look at the U.S. & Canada results for the brandchannel survey across the last five years, you’ll see that content brands have had a rocky ride in and out of the top 10 list.

In 2001, Martha Steward was #7 and CNN was #8. In 2002, there were no content brands (unless you consider Kripsy Kremes or Starbucks coffee “content”), but in 2003, Pixar broke into the top 10 at #8, then climbed to #5 in 2004, when Martha Stewart surged back to #8 and Oprah Winfrey took the #10 spot.

But in 2005, only Oprah Winfrey remains at #9, while brands that enable, but do not create content — Apple, Google, craigslist, Amazon — are dominant.

Is there any hope for a content brand resurgence in an increasingly open and chaotic system (as I’ve argued there is), or has Google, the proliferation of consumer-created media, and the digitizing of all media (among other factors) sent content brands into a death spiral towards commoditization.

The Economist sees hope for Big Media brands:

Any media business has two products to sell: its content (to readers and viewers); and its audience (to advertisers). The task for old media is first to protect its advertising revenues by amassing audiences online and, second, to offset their viewers’ intolerance of mass-advertising by making them pay more for content—which they are increasingly willing to do. It will not be easy, but then saving the heroine never was.

Given the ascendancy of Google, the days of Old Media amassing audience may soon be at an end. The real question for Old Media, which joins it at the hip with Apple and Google, is whether, and if so how much, consumers will be willing to pay for content.

While consumers are already embracing the new freedom to choose from a much wider diversity of content, it’s already like drinking from a fire hose, and technology isn’t helping as much as it needs to.

While old content brands may never make it back to the top, I’m still betting that the power of high-quality content brands will endure.

  • You are hitting on a key thing, here, about brands in general. This is that brands are becoming more valuable now than they have ever been. Why? Well, a lot of reasons, but mostly because the ongoing decline of Old Media is making them harder to build. As TV gets harder and more expensive to use (TV being the Big Bat of Old School consumer brand creation), as well as radio and print, you start to see an interesting thing whereby existing brands are developing additional protective barriers, if you will, because it is harder for competitors to take them on using the old, tried and true methods.

    This is great for existing brands, but will prove increasingly difficult for those launching competitors or trying to disrupt the status quo by changing a category fundamentally. The upshot is, I bet that 3-5 years from now, we will see even more value assigned to those brands already in the lead, today.

    -- Stuart

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