No, brands are not media

I have want­ed to write an arti­cle for some time about this now com­mon idea that brands must become media. When we speak about media, the com­par­i­son is gen­er­al­ly made to TV chan­nels, whose role is to enter­tain and / or inform.

This is not a strict­ly tech­no­log­i­cal issue, even though once the con­tents are pro­duced they do have to be cir­cu­lat­ed and their per­for­mance mea­sured. It’s from the per­spec­tive of dig­i­tal strat­e­gy that I want to share with you today.

if the future of brands is that they become media, devel­op­ing a direct rela­tion­ship with their audi­ences, pro­duc­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing enter­tain­ing and orig­i­nal con­tent like a TV channel, this view neglects two impor­tant things:

  1. The need for adver­tis­ing space in the mediaMedia, con­sid­er TV chan­nels, thrives by sell­ing adver­tis­ing space (in addi­tion to poten­tial­ly charg­ing a fee to access the right to buy it). Its chal­lenge is to attract and retain an audi­ence, in order to enable brands to gain expo­sure to this audi­ence. And, as a rebound, to allow these brands to sell their products.

For a brand, the prob­lem is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent as its num­ber one goal is to sell its own prod­ucts. Today, what brand would be ready to wel­come a com­peti­tor to its com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan? To take a French exam­ple, Canal + (a TV sub­scrip­tion chan­nel) buys adver­tis­ing space on TF1 (TV chan­nel acces­si­ble to all), its com­peti­tor, to sell sub­scrip­tions. Now, if Red­Bull sells adver­tis­ing space to Tag Heuer, Garmin and Suzu­ki in its Red­Bul­letin mag­a­zine, I think we’re not going to see Coca-Cola buy­ing space there (or Red­Bull agree­ing to sell it).

  1. The sub­jec­tive dimen­sion of the brandThe sec­ond fun­da­men­tal ele­ment: a brand is, as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, sub­jec­tive, where­as it is expect­ed that media be objec­tive, even if that’s nev­er real­ly com­plete­ly the case.

This objec­tiv­i­ty of media is based on eth­i­cal or legal rules (super­vi­sion of prod­uct place­ment for exam­ple) and are not viable for a brand-cen­tered pub­li­ca­tion. Try to pre­vent Sam­sung from dis­cussing its prod­ucts on its web­site, or as in the pre­vi­ous exam­ple, go tell Red­Bull that it’s for­bid­den to show a can when they report on one of their foot­ball teams or dur­ing the X‑Games! I also think about that inter­na­tion­al ener­gy play­er that replaced the term “nuclear” in all its com­mu­ni­ca­tions with “car­bon-free ener­gy”: clean­er, but also a way to mask the real­i­ty … A jour­nal­ist would prob­a­bly not do it.

Brands need to con­vey a messageCre­at­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing con­tent is all about offer­ing a per­spec­tive on the world, build­ing a vision of the world and brands have to use a lan­guage cho­sen in accor­dance with their val­ues and the mes­sages they want to con­vey with­in these con­tents. It is even a neces­si­ty in order to achieve their objec­tives of vis­i­bil­i­ty, rep­u­ta­tion, and commitment.

This is why the idea that Brand = Media today seems far too fast and wrong. If a brand can and must become a con­tent pro­duc­er to devel­op its rep­u­ta­tion and main­tain its rela­tion­ship with its tar­gets, I main­tain that using the term brand-media is a strate­gic error as well as an error in communications.