The trend towards brand-owned media

Apr 28, 2015

Neal Farrell peers into the crystal ball for the future of traditional media and the rise of brand-owned media, or content marketing.

In the heyday of the ’90s when I was a sales rep selling advertising pages in the leading automotive magazine to would-be marketers, I recall months where my personal portfolio exceeded 50 pages out of a book of 250 pages.

There were three of us selling… so do the math. How times have changed! Now those very same publications have a fraction of the advertising support and retail sales are an ongoing struggle as magazines fight for a share of an ever-decreasing size of wallet and struggle to hook readers from a shelf that’s increasingly fragmented. Prior to mass-market Internet access, readers were happy to commit to annual subscriptions, now they shy away. The result: subscription revenue is all but dead as a publishing model.

When I imagine what the future will be like for traditional consumer print media owners, I can only think that it’s digital or die. But then my mind quickly turns to content marketing and I know it won’t be long before print and digital landscapes will be completely dominated by brand-owned content at the same or better quality than what consumer media is able to produce either in print or digitally. So really, it’s get brand publishing or die.

Why do I think this?

The trend towards content marketing

Marketers are spending up to 30 percent of their total marketing budget on content marketing activities (also called brand publishing, contract publishing or custom publishing), according to the Content Marketing Institute Benchmarks and Trends 2014 research study.

The best talent is going brand side

Unlike media owners, brands don’t have to fight for their share of ad spend or newsstand revenue as 100 percent of the cost of a content marketing publishing activity can be funded through the brand’s marketing budget, although there is sometimes a case for a small subsidy from key supplier advertising revenue and/or newsstand sales. This means marketers can define how much cash to invest buying the best talent. The talented writers, photographers, editors and designers who cut their teeth while doing time in traditional consumer publishing now earn bigger bucks across the road at brands, a trend that will accelerate in the coming years.

Brands produce as good and even better content

Another benefit of not having to rely on the diminishing advertising and newsstand revenue pie, is that brands are able to make available to editors (chief content officers as we refer to them now) bigger content budgets, enabling them to hire the best freelancers, shoot the highest quality photos and add value to readers’ experience through bespoke video productions. As we know, content is king and readers will gravitate towards good content no matter where it originates.

Branded content will fragment the market

So if the stories brands tell are of the same or better quality, then readers will trend towards brand-owned (not branded) content and media. Look at what Red Bull has achieved as a media owner producing and distributing some of the world’s best extreme sport content – visit In South Africa we see this when we look at the food and home media category. The top circulating (by a significant margin) English print magazine is owned by Pick n Pay, a leading food retailer. Second place is a tussle between another brand-owned title and a couple of traditional consumer titles. See the trend.

Delivering a measurable ROI will stimulate growth

In the past, content marketers have had it easy with marketers paying limited attention to real return on investment. Today that has all changed. With the advent of digital publishing, marketers are asking more relevant questions to determine the impact brand content has on their bottom line. Savvy content marketers will embrace this move because they’ll recognise that a marketer receiving real return will invest more in content and media, further building brand-owned media assets.

Brands will buy and own media assets

The media landscape of the future is one that will be dominated by brand-owned media and brand-owned content. Brands will find it increasingly compelling to invest in their own media assets. This is not good news for traditional consumer media hanging on to their print or digital media assets. And there will come a time when brands will take the leap to buy struggling consumer publications for themselves.

Neal Farrell is the CEO of digital content marketing agency Narrative, a division of the Publicis Machine group based in South Africa. Narrative’s clients include blue-chip brands such as Sanlam, Massbuild, FirstRand, adidas and Jeep.

Contact Neal on or visit Connect with Neal on LinkedIn at or follow Neal on Twitter @nealfarrell.

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