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Birchbox is Native Advertising on Steroids: Is this the Future of Content Marketing?

Birchbox, the popular beauty box subscription service, received a $60m cash injection this week valuing the subscription commerce startup at a cool $485m.

Reporting 800,000 subscribers, and with estimated revenues north of $125m, Birchbox is a next-generation beauty magazine, where the ‘pages’ are made out of product samples not paper.  Rather than take out advertising space, advertisers buy up space in the box, allowing subscribers to discover and trial their new products; supporting editorial is bundled into the box.  In other words, Birchbox is ‘native advertising’ on steroids – and quite possibly the future of content marketing.

Content marketing, the use of publishing channels as opposed to advertising channels to achieve marketing goals, for consumer products typically falls into one of two buckets – the ‘content spectacular’ (think Red Bull’s space-diving, sales-driving Stratos YouTube spectacular), or ‘native advertising’ – sponsored/advertorial content in media publications (think Rolex-sponsored ‘Icons’ content in The Atlantic).

But there is a third future for content marketing that goes beyond the ‘content spectacular’ and tricksy ‘native advertising’ – and that is to bake content into the product experience itself.  Think Domino’s Pizza, and the uber-successful Hatsune Miku campaign – point your phone at the pizza box and see a Hatsune Miku – a virtual anime idol living in holograph form – appear on your screen and play a personal concert for you.  Or think fitness trackers – they generate content that is personal, share-able and share-worthy.

It is in this third vision of content marketing – where content is baked into the product experience – where Birchbox sits.  The product, not the ad, is the content – and it is delivered in a way that is exciting, share-able and share-worthy.

How could your brand profit from a Birchbox-style content marketing – native advertising on steroids that gets your product into the hands, and on the lips of your target audience.


Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.