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In 2015, this column took a look at some of the best and worst pieces of content marketing produced that year, breaking down what made some pieces work, and why others fell flat on their faces.

Great content is something you truly want to read – informative, funny, insightful, unique – and isn’t interfered with by the advertiser to stick their logo or message in your face. Bad content is just the opposite – it’s 100% “advertising” and zero percent “native” – contrived and uninformative, and at times even deceptive.

As we are now in our third month of 2016, we can look back at some of the content marketing pieces to come out this year, and it looks like the same breakdown from last year holds strong. Some publishers are creating truly positive pieces for their advertisers, some brands are muddling along in the middle, and lots of sites are still churning out garbage. Let’s take a look at a piece that best exemplifies each of those categories.

Good – New York Times & Pure Storage

sponsored content analysis

Cute animations make this piece pop. Courtesy NYTimes.

As they have with many past pieces, the New York Times shows how great sponsored content is done with “The Power of Simplicity.” Created by their venerated T Brand Studio for flash storage provider Pure Storage, this piece is as easy on the eyes as it is informative. The story starts off with a good disclaimer that it is sponsored content paid for by the advertiser (although I would like that text to be a taaaaad bigger) and immediately hooks you with some cute HTML 5 animations.

The story itself is informative, breaking down the history of flash storage, how it came to be, and why it’s allowed so many innovations that wouldn’t have been possible with old-fashioned hard drives. The piece manages to plug for the advertiser’s products a few times, but not in a way that’s distracting or biased. A couple sections start to read a bit too much like a press release, but overall the reader comes away from this article feeling like they’ve learned something.

So-So – NFL & Pantene

In the run up to the Super Bowl, you see brands whip out all sorts of contorted connections between their products and football. While Pantene’s “Dad-Do” series is better than most, it still stumbles a few times. The video series is certainly amusing, and you can see from the Youtube metrics that it’s resonated with viewers.

But once you get past its cute surface, it’s really just a bunch of NFL players using Pantene products on their daughters. A humorous flip on masculinity for sure, but not much more than that; it’s a cute ad series masquerading as fresher content.

Flop – Gawker & TGI Friday’s

Sometimes when content marketing goes bad, it goes really bad. That’s the case in this odious number produced by Studio @ Gawker for America’s preferred slinger of somewhat affordable grilled meats and diabetes inducing mixed drinks, TGI Friday’s.

Unfortunately, “Super-Powered Mercenary Buys His Favorite TGI Friday’s in Jacksonville, Florida” is as inane and indigestible as the advertiser’s dinner combos. After reading the “humorous” rewrite of a TGI Friday’s menu, one certainly doesn’t walk away wanting to step into one of their restaurants. You don’t even walk away having laughed a little, as all the “jokes” land with a thud.

The only thing you take away from this piece is that some publications need to up their standards for sponsored content before they destroy their readers’ trust in them, and some marketing departments should be taking a slightly closer look at what they’re spending their money on.

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