My latest column in the Conference Board Review is on brand journalism, which is the new-fangled term for "sponsored content."
The idea is that advertisers can break through the clutter of print and electronic media by offering content that is useful and somehow connected to their core competency. It's the latest shiny new thing in marketing.
Of course, it's hard to believe branded content could ever invade the "real" media like the network evening news programs. Except it's happening. And the perpetrators are the news divisions themselves.
Last Thursday on the CBS evening news, for example, Scott Pelley devoted three minutes to excerpts from an upcoming "60 Minutes" story he did on Lanborgheni's 50th anniversary. It included just enough of his whitknuckled time on the company's test track to pique viewers' interest.
This morning, NBC's "Meet the Press" ran part of a Matt Lauer interview with Bernard Kerick, New York City's disgraced Police Commissioner. Kerick actually had some interesting things to say about the way minimum sentencing guidelines are crowding prisons with people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. But the issue was given so little time on the program that the excerpt's real purpose was evident -- to promote the "Today" show on which it would run the next morning.
The network news divisions are entitled to run as many cross-program promotions as they like. But when this kind of "sponsored content" gets in the way of real news, it's no better than "human interest" stories featuring puppies and babies.
Ironically, the news divisions are violating the cardinal rule of brand journalism -- be useful and, if you can't be useful, be interesting. Otherwise, don't.