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May 8, 2000
Content Is Still King
The more the Web matures, the more it seems like traditional media

One measure of the new media's resemblance to the old is the growing realization of the importance of content – news, insights and advice – Web-based retailers offer to lure customers back again and again.

According to Brand Marketing magazine, both cutting-edge Web-only companies such as Oxygen and old-line businesses – Sony, Merrill Lynch and Vicks Vap-o-Rub – are using editorial content on-line.

Some add original content to the material they gather from traditional news sources. They then e-mail this highly customized information to customers or make it available on their Web sites. Some even charge subscription fees.

"Companies want a 'stickier' Web site, and they know they can generate multiple hits per day from some of their end users if they can get constantly refreshed news," said Elena Salij, vice president of marketing for Screaming Media, a New York City private-label aggregator and supplier of content to Web-based brands including Rollingstone.com and DrKoop.com.

Sony Music Entertainment's InfoBeat newsletter creates "a great way to direct-market to people on a regular basis," said Mark Wachen, senior vice president and general manager of the proprietary news update that is e-mailed free of charge to nearly 2.5 million people every day.

The lines between advertising and editorial matter increasingly are blurring online, through arrangements such as the recently announced deal in which Candie's, the teen-shoe brand, will take news and reviews from Rolling Stone magazine's Web site and posting them on Candies.com.

Several Procter & Gamble brands also combine editorial advice with their brand-marketing efforts. Vicks, for example, has a "product finder" to inform consumers about cold-battling strategies; Pampers Institute doles out on-line advice on baby care.

Early indications are that consumers don't care where they get information or even whether it has an obvious bias. In a survey of 2,200 people, Jupiter Communications discovered the "trust level" of 68% of them wasn't affected by the fact that a news site also conducted e-commerce. Another 26% said it "somewhat erodes" their trust.

- by Mark E. Dixon