From our Roll Your Own desk

As the hardtracking staff has noted on numerous occasions, ads in sheep’s clothing are all the rage these days. The less marketing looks like marketing, the better.

Given that, branded content – or brand journalism or content marketing or whatever they want to call it – is all the rage these days, with marketers increasingly creating their own media outlets to supplement (or replace) ads in traditional media.

Case in point: Online mattress company Casper has launched Van Winkle’s, which describes itself as “a new website dedicated to exploring how sleep affects and informs our lives, both at night and during the day.”

Digiday’s Shareen Pathak describes it somewhat differently:

Casper, a mattress company that wants to change the way we buy our beds, has in the last couple of months been busy trying to make its name in an entirely different place: journalism.

In June, the venture-backed startup that sells a mattress in a box launched Van Winkle’s, a standalone news and media website headed by former Observer editor-in-chief Elizabeth Spiers that the company says is part of their mission to own the culture of sleep.

Representative samples:



Digiday’s Pathak adds, “The site, which does not look like it is affiliated to Casper save for a small link at the bottom that links you to the company’s homepage, is staffed by five journalists (‘real journalists,’ said editor-in-chief Jeff Koyen) and has seven different sections.”

Interestingly, the content on Van Winkle’s is also migrating to non-brand media such as Alternet, which did include this disclaimer atop an article on snooze buttons: “Originally published by Van Winkle’s, a new website dedicated to smarter sleep & wakefulness, published by Casper.”

Nice ripple effect in the quest to “own the culture of sleep,” yes?

This media-making movement goes beyond just websites. For the past year or so Toyota has been exploring “native listening experiences” with its Toyota Sessions content marketing on Pandora, featuring artists such as St. LuciaNick WaterhouseJohnnyswimMandolin OrangeNico Vega and others.

Similarly in the print world, Red Bull has been publishing The Red Bulletin magazine for about six years. The company claims a circulation of two million copies monthly in six languages across 12 countries, although the website Talking New Media says its audited readership is more like 528,000. Still not bad for what’s essentially marketing material. Beyond that, Red Bull “has become a full fledged media company now, producing TV shows, books, music and more, in addition to its branded magazine.”

That’s a lot of branded content. And – stop the presses! – there’s plenty more to come.

John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
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