By James Harrison

When I tell people that I run a content marketing agency I am often asked: “what is content marketing”? When I explain the concepts of content marketing and how it can significantly support a business’s growth, their eyes light up. When I go a little further and explain that this is not a new concept, but one that has been around for years, the amazement grows along with the realisation that it is the most simple concept but one that is so hard to get right.


The phrase “Content Marketing” has only been around for the last decade or so, pioneered by Joe Pulizzi when he created the Content Marketing Institute in 2007. But, the inspiration behind content marketing can trace its roots back a long way – in fact before the independence of the USA!


As a professional marketer I have been known, on occasion, to be a little cynical about what I read and see – especially if I know it’s been created with an ulterior motive. But sometimes, even I am inspired by the creativity and thinking behind certain famous campaigns.


As a student of the industry, I love hearing the stories about how some of these amazing content campaigns were conceived. And it’s these stories that stay with me, make me like those brands or people and encourage me to tell others about them – the very aim of content marketing!


Here are some of my favorite stories about content marketing through the years:


Poor Richard’s Almanack – This is often referenced as one of the very first examples of content marketing. Back in 1732, before he became a founding father of the USA, Benjamin Franklin was running a printing business in Philadelphia. To help promote his business and demonstrate the value of printed content he created Poor Richard’s Almanack. The Almanack was essentially a business newsletter with book reviews, news and weather reports.


It became so popular that it was published for 25 years, selling over 10,000 copies a year, helping build a very successful printing business and propel Benjamin Franklin into becoming one of the US’s best-known men.


The Michelin GuideCreated by the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard, who owned the now famous tyre company, the Michelin Guide, first published in 1900, listed the names and locations of petrol stations, garages and tyre mechanics, hotels and restaurants across France.


The aim was to encourage those few car owners at the time to drive more so as to wear through and therefore buy more tyres. For the first edition, 35,000 copies were distributed free. Over the years its popularity grew and today it is considered the benchmark for the restaurant industry and has made the Michelin brand world famous.


Clipper Travel – From the land to the air. In 1952 content marketing took to the skies as Pan American World Airways (PanAM) launched the first inflight magazine. It was called Clipper Travel and was given to every passenger for free on board all of their flights. With pre-jet flights lasting a lot longer, and seat-back entertainment systems several decades away, customers were grateful for travel-oriented content to while away the hours.


Clipper Travel was full of reviews of hotels, destinations and ideas for future trips. What was smart was that it only featured destinations that PanAM flew to and it was given to passengers when they were in the mindset to talk and imagine their next trip! It has become the inspiration of all inflight magazines since.


Weight Watchers Magazine – As marketers become more sophisticated, so did the way they engaged with their audiences. In 1968 Weight Watchers was pioneering the way brands built valued relationships with their customers when it launched its new magazine.


The magazine not only gave its customers’ recipe ideas and guidelines of how to eat healthy food, it also told them inspiring stories of success featuring real-life cases studies and provided the readers with both hope and support that they too can achieve these results. Better yet, it encouraged those who were not members to sign up, in a way that was not seen as blatant advertising. It has gone on to become one of the most popular health and lifestyle magazines on the shelf (and online) today.


Lego Movies – I do know that strictly speaking the Lego movies are not content marketing in the traditional sense. However, in 2014 when the first was released the Lego brand was far from setting the world on fire.


The first movie gave the company nearly a 25% boost in revenues, and this trend has continued ever since. Not only that, they have opened Lego up to a new audience and captured the imagination of thousands of kids (and grown-up kids like me) all over the world.


All of the above examples did something that their competitors were not doing. Producing a guide, a magazine, inspiration or just entertainment. But what none of them did was talk about themselves.


As I said earlier I love hearing and learning about our industry and am sure there are hundreds of other examples I have missed out. If you know any more examples you want to share, please get in touch and I can amend this blog with a reference to your input.