Branded journalism is standard in content marketing yet it’s not new. Over 70 years ago it was being used to sway Texas voters.
In 1941 Lyndon Johnston (LBJ), later to become the 36th US President, was campaigning to become a Senator in his native state of Texas. The election was hotly contested and the battle for the attention of voters was fierce.
The only source of news for many voters in rural Texas was the 25 newspapers that published weekly in farming and ranching communities across the State. Few publishers were professional journalists and most were often short on cash and short on news to fill their pages.
Some were prepared to print articles provided by the candidates in return for advertising. Payments for this political advertorial were small, because at that time local merchants could buy an ad for 50 cents or a $1.
Johnson had poached accomplished newspaper men for his campaign. In an early example of branded journalism, these reporters provided the small rural outlets across Texas with packaged news stories and pictures of their candidate. Content could be a copy of a recent speech, a favourable item from the campaign trail or an endorsement by a local identity. And the content kept coming – edition after edition – throughout the campaign.
The payments paid off and Johnson received massive coverage throughout the State. His team never rested, recycling particularly good print coverage as radio content in the numerous broadcasts Johnson’s campaign arranged over the 10-week long campaign.
Ironically Johnson was beaten in the Senate race by then Texas Governor Pappy O’Daniel. Pappy, himself a savvy media operator, used his popular, weekly hillbilly radio show to champion his claims for the Senate seat.
Winning only by around 1000 votes, it seems Pappy’s down home style and branded journalism out manoeuvred LBJ’s more polished efforts. Which proves many of today we think of as new, someone somewhere has tried before.