NME and Microsoft- two iconic brands that were perhaps not expecting their latest collaboration, an ill-judged review of 2015's best debut albums littered with Windows 10 and Cortana refernces, to receive the heat it has.
From a personal perspective, it always seemed a real shame that NME felt they had no other option but to become a free publication, essentially turning their back on their small but engaged audience, in an attempt to engage the masses – a difficult task no matter whatever content you’re pedalling.
Branded content will always remain tricky to execute and, in this instance, it is perhaps even trickier.
With NME, not only do you have a cohort of committed readers who have been with the magazine for many years, but now you also have an audience who have started reading the magazine since it began circulating for free. Instantly having those two audiences creates a chasm as both audiences bring different expectations to the table.
The 'new-blood' readers will perhaps not be too disapproving of branded content (whatever the standard), as essentially what they have is free content and anything that doesn’t pique their interest will simply go unread – no skin off their noses.
However, with the veteran NME readers, you have a group of people who view the brand as an institution, a magazine that has never conformed to the status quo. Quite simply, they will have viewed what was done with Microsoft as the equivalent of your best mate pulling your mother.
The corporate lingo that makes up a substantial part of the article is a common demand from brands when looking to create branded content, and herein lies a key difference between successful and unsuccessful branded content. Striking the balance between a client’s demands and the production of authentic content will continue to be the main struggle for those producing branded content.
Not all the blame should be laid at Windows’ door in this instance. NME should have pushed back if they had any inkling that what was being asked of them didn’t align with their tone of voice. After all, it’s a mutual responsibility between brand and publisher as to how a piece of work turns out.
I can only speculate as to how the conversation between NME and their contemporaries at Windows went, but I imagine it will have taken place with the best of intentions in mind. There will always be pressure on publishers to keep producing content that keeps an audience engaged and that also pays the bills, however there needs to be a greater emphasis on the production of quality content. After all, it is extremely hard to attract an audience today- to do all the hard work in getting them to your channel, to then scare them away is a lot of wasted energy on everyone’s behalf.
No doubt NME will pick itself up, dust itself down and move on from this misadventure. But the question remains - will NME keep its head down and wait for the storm to pass?
Personally, I’d love to see NME and Microsoft come together and produce something truly unique to music and both brands. NME was never one to lie down and take a beating and I’m not sure why that should start now. After all it’s often a brand’s heritage that can save it from the abyss.
Richard Armstrong is the founder of content marketing agency Kameleon. You can follow him on Twitter @RichardKameleon.