Ben Young
Ben Young
December 1, 2023

Edition #426

Mega post-thanksgiving edit, Idris Elba goes searching for gold, what does losing trust in media & AI have to do with one another? And would you pay for branded content?

This week Shareen Pathak, Co-founder & EIC, at Toolkits is our guest editor (yay!). I’ve long been a fan of Shareen’s work, since Digiday times, and at Toolkits they have been releasing super interesting data around brand publishing & brand content. So I thought I’d open the floor to her this week. Please subscribe to their note, it’s good. Over to her.

At Toolkits, we do original reporting, research and analysis to provide intelligence and insight for anyone working in publishing, media, or content.

One of the most fascinating trends for us has been the rise of brand publishing – how non-news and journalism brands are using content as a key way to reach audiences, both internal and external. The information ecosystem has become much more fragmented and complex, creating space for these companies to step in.

But how are audiences (customers) responding to brands? Pretty well, apparently. Here are 3 key findings from some recent consumer research we conducted in collaboration with National Research Group:

Trust in media has opened up space for brands
36% of respondents to our survey said they trust content published by brands more than content from traditional media organizations – including TV news, newspapers, magazines or online news sites. Only 26% said they trust brand content less than they do content published by media companies. The rest – 38% – said they were unsure.

Not only can brands produce high-quality content, they are finding that audiences are actually receptive to this content. The data suggests that audiences now care less about whether a brand or media organization produces the content, as long as it is of high quality – and that audiences have permission from the audience to truly act as authoritative publishers.

Content is a key competency
71% said engaging and interesting content from a brand makes them trust that brand more. The exact same number (71%) said that when they encounter poor-quality content produced by a brand it makes them trust that brand less.

Good content isn’t just about marketing, it’s about brand perception and trust. Good content elevates brands, but bad content can sink them. Against this backdrop, content isn’t just about eking out customers, but is poised to become a crucial way any company shows up publicly.

The AI question
Across our research, quality emerged as the key reason for why consumers are willing to engage with brand content (and may even agree to pay for it.)

As more brands leverage AI tools to help with ideation and content creation, they will need to ask themselves if AI-produced content is likely to help or hinder the perception of their brands. Already, brand marketers experimenting with AI are running into issues of quality, forcing them to put into place more stringent mechanisms to ensure error-ridden or poor-value content doesn’t get published. As generative AI tools soar in popularity, those kinds of checks will need to become more common.

Notable stories this week


Campaign of the week

  • Idris Elba uncovers the human connection to Gold in this documentary of the same name. In partnership with World Gold Council. I bet this was fun to make.

View all 2023 best campaigns.

Smartest commentary

  • “I fully understand the short-term revenue choices publishers make the quarter. Long term brand concerns are easy to be seen as a luxury. But brands aren’t forever. Like going bankrupt, their decline can be gradually and then all at once.”Brian Morrissey.
  • [From a BuzzFeed memo] “..the value of distributed-only audiences, has been rapidly diminishing, and now it’s approaching zero, and some might argue that its value is in fact negative.”Dao Nguyen.

Datapoints of note

That’s it for this week.