Last year I watched a panel debate on the following question: “Is it content, or is it an advertisement?” The panelists went round and round in circles for an hour, and there was no conclusion. My own thinking is along the lines of “it doesn’t really matter, and it’s probably both.”

I happen to think that we have entered a new golden age for advertising. The very best ads are conceived as shareable content experiences, and we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Unfortunately most TV and radio ads are still utterly intolerable, but I feel that the bar has been raised in recent years, driven by YouTube, social media, audience participation, and aspirations to be more creative. The best ads are anchored around compelling content. Execution, as with most things, is paramount. Combine the two and you might have a big hit on your hands. 

There is a flipside: a lousy idea executed brilliantly is still a lousy idea. If the content is underwhelming then you will have to pay to gain reach. So much for earned media. If you are paying a small fortune to seed your content then you’re very much in the realms of paid media. I call this ‘the shareability gap’, and I believe that brands should invest in creativity, not media.

If a brand has paid for the content, then it pretty much wants you to buy something, or at the very least like it a little bit more, but that doesn’t mean that the content has to suck.

Here are some non-sucky content marketing campaigns that I’ve seen recently. I’ve taken quite a broad brush approach here with regards to formats: there are ads, pop-up installations, photographic collections, blogs, and helpful guides. I like the ideas and the execution. Have a look and do let me know what you think…

Bellroy’s ‘Slim Your Wallet’ campaign

This is a great idea for a content-driven ad campaign, with all ads pointing to a rather lovely landing page. Compelling copy, a pleasant website, and a good looking product. I may yet purchase one…

AirBnB’s neighbourhood guides

I love these thoughtful, well-presented guides, though to be absolutely honest I expected them to perform much better in the search engines for AirBnB. There is no mention of the word ‘rent’ anywhere on this particular page, which seems like an oversight. I’d optimise the hell out of these pages.

VW’s ‘unlaunch’ ad

The first time I have seen an ‘unintroducing’ ad, and more proof that VW consistently hires the best copywriters in the business.

Adidas does Tumblr

The ‘Originals’ blog is one of the better examples of brands doing Tumblr well. The custom theme is very slick indeed, and makes for an enjoyable browsing experience. That said, links to buy the shoes would be useful, as I am a horse who sometimes likes to drink.

Petplan does Pinterest

A clever example of creating themed content that perfectly suits Pinterest’s visually rich platform, and Petplan’s brand. Dogs galore! Just look at their little faces…

So does Triptease

More Pinterest goodness, this time from Triptease, which has compiled inspirational boards for travellers. I’d love to spend a few months doing this route in a 1969 Boss Mustang

All Saints’ biker portraits

A monochromatic, leather-focused photography campaign with high production values. Why not create a story – or art – from your products?

Dumb Ways To Die

When I was a kid a very serious man with a face like a dropped scone occasionally turned up at school to play us a video nasty, to persuade us not to mess around on the railways. This public awareness campaign from Metro Trains in Melbourne is much more tasteful.

The Buffer Blog

Transparent. Useful. Well written. Buffer is doing a lot of things right, and that includes blogging.

Spotify’s ‘My Year’

This little tool uses a year’s worth of listening data to compile a personal playlist. A great idea.

Lovehoney’s ‘SexMap’

A somewhat NSFW example of how data + levers = content + PR.

Velocity’s ‘CRAP’ slideshow

No, I’m not being insulting… that’s what they called it! Doug Kessler absolutely knocked it out of the park last year with this slideshow. It is closing in on half a million views, which is really rather impressive given the B2B focus.

Pepsi Max’s ‘Test Drive’

Pepsi hired NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon for an idea called ‘Test Drive’, whereupon he disguises himself before proceeding to scare the daylights out of somebody. The first video has amassed more than 41m views. The second one, published just one week ago, is already at 12m.

Test Drive 1

Test Drive 2

Net-A-Porter’s glossy magazine

Net-A-Porter has invested a considerable sum in Porter, its new magazine. It certainly looks the part, and the circulation shows real intent (400,000 copies distributed throughout 60 countries).

So, is this an out and out publishing play? No… all of the pages are ‘shoppable’ – they can be scanned using the retailer’s mobile app. This is A-list content marketing.

Molson’s Fridge

The beer brand created a ‘Canadians-only’ fridge, which could only be accessed by people with a Canadian passport. It then took it on a European tour, placing it in the likes of London and Brussels.

Coca-Cola’s pop-up park

Turf the streets!

Have you seen any stand-out examples of content marketing recently? Do share your suggestions in the comments area below…