“Knowledge is like money: to be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.”
As a child, I still remember staring at the big bookshelves in my grandpa’s den. Bookshelves filled with leather bound editions of Louis L’Amour novels.
I remember pulling them down one-by-one and reading “frontier stories” of gun battles, heroism, and love.
I remember Sunday afternoons laughing at my grandpa’s horrible John Wayne imitations, as we sat in the living room watching “The Duke” win countless gun battles.
“Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim.”
Growing up my grandpa’s favorite author was Louis L’Amour. The great writer whose western-themed novels shaped a generation of cowboys and cowgirls. His favorite actor was John Wayne, who starred in some of the greatest western films of all time.
To this day, my grandpa trains horses and works in his barn. He is the quintessential, real cowboy.
As an adult, this has shaped my love of not only western stories and motifs but also of the West in general. But my grandpa and I are not alone in our love of the wild wild West.
Originally, Sunset Magazine was published strictly for passengers aboard the train or waiting at the station. The goal of the publication: to promote the West. The Southern Pacific Railroad wanted to lure tourists onto the company’s trains. They wanted these travelers to stay at the company’s resort the Hotel Del Monet in Monterey. And they wanted as many of these people as possible to buy land in California and Nevada. Just so happens that Southern Pacific was the largest single landowner there.
The original intent of Sunset Magazine is the true essence of content marketing as we know it today; content that makes you a participant, not just a consumer. They provided stories that gave people an emotional connection with the West. A real connection, a shared understanding and knowledge of passions. A real relationship, just like I had with my grandpa.
Stories about the epic greatness of Yosemite. Photographs by noted geologist Joseph LeConte. Education and tips for traveling by train. Stories of the over-the-top resorts in which you could rest your head. Poetry featuring railroad themes, tall tales, and short stories. Tourists could live their dreams – all they had to do was buy a train ticket. Later issues would feature authors such as Jack London, Dashiell Hammet, and Mary Austin.
Within a year of its launch, Sunset had more than 15,000 subscribers. Within a decade, it had over 500,000 readers every month. Encouraged and inspired by the success of Sunset, the Southern Pacific Railroad created the Literary Bureau, with the goal of producing more publications to promote the various resorts and other attractions along its routes.
Southern Pacific Railroad looked at the western side of the United States like Michelangelo looked at a block of stone and saw a piece of art. They knew once they had the ears and eyes of the public, they could have their hearts as well.
The Content Train Today
Today, there are examples of content marketing and native advertising all around us. Modern-Day examples that use the same techniques that Sunset Magazine has been using for over a 100 years.
Companies realize that in today’s world, traditional advertising is not always enough. Creating consistent content to attract and acquire a defined audience, with the objective of influencing consumer behavior isn’t a new trick, but it is one only a few companies continue to do well.
Marriott International, the hotel chain, has turned itself into a full-fledged media company. Red Bull, one of the most prominent examples, has been using a similar content strategy for years. Time Inc., Buzzfeed, and SNL have been diving head first into native advertising. They are producing rich content that brands then pay for to place on their platforms.
Whether that platform is a website, magazine, podcast, or television network, we are going to see more and more advertising that’s disguised as content for your consumption.
At the heart of it, I don’t think this is such a bad thing. Entertaining content, even when branded, is still entertaining, quality content. The brilliance is not in just providing the product, but in telling the story that people want to see themselves being a part of, just like Southern Pacific did with Sunset.
So let’s get rid of the shitty billboards. Let’s trash the annoying radio and TV commercials. We should be creative and tell great stories; stories that should make us have a real connection with the brand. Stories that bring not only entertainment but value to our lives.
There is no such thing as neutral content. You create things that either help or hurt your brand. Let’s take what Sunset Magazine has been doing for over 100 years and make great content. Your challenge is to change the hearts and minds of the people who interact with the content you produce.
And if that task seems too challenging, hire us, and take er’ easy there, pilgrim.