Branded Content Shouldn’t Be Fake News

Understandably, “advertorial” – the overlap of advertising and editorial – has a bad rap. The practice started at newspapers and magazines going back to the first half of the 20th century. Publication writers would create bylined articles in an editorial voice for advertisers.

The pieces read like and looked like regular editorial content. They sought to pull the wool over reader eyes about a cozy relationship that violated the church-and-state, arm’s length relationship of editorial and advertising.

The practice then popped up in other media, with infomercials, for example, playing on radio and televisions.

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The Rising Tide of Water Activism

The trouble with many worthy environmental causes is that they try to scare the hell out of people. It may be true that if we don’t act now the planet is doomed, but put that way the problem is too big for most people to cope with and so they tune out.

When Stan and Mariam Gibson founded Ecologos, in 1998, a charity now completely devoted to water concerns, they raised the alarm about issues ranging from water pollution to oceans choked with plastic. They experimented with different approaches to their cause, including organized civil actions and social media campaigns.

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From Soaring Cloud Forest to Sun-Drenched Beach


To promote the luxury villa property rentals of LaCure, I continue to write a series of e-blasts to travel agents and potential clients directly. Destinations and experiences are tied into specific selling seasons. The short, evocative copy has to pair well with the gorgeous art. For this e-blast, we are selling the eco- and adventure travel charms of Costa Rica:

View two oceans at once from the top of a volcano. Hike rainforests ringing with howler monkey complaints, dancing with colorful morpho butterflies, opening to misty crater lakes. Choose your adventure – eco or pulse pounding – in this stunning biodiverse paradise.

Watch surfers carve perfect waves from your place on a perfect beach, a short walk to your majestic villa with its soaring spaces – the perfect way to experience the tropical warmth and bounty of Costa Rica. . . . See the e-blast here.

Write for a Cause


Writing for charities and non-profit organizations has its own rewards. Modest fees are compensated by the chance to help support a worthwhile cause, with built-in material for great storytelling.

But in doing work I really enjoy for a national at-risk youth charity and a U.S. educational foundation, I have found that the writing is as much about brand, image and money as it is for any corporate client.

The United States apparently has more than 1.1 million public charities. And Canada boasts an estimated 170,000 charities and non-profits. All of these organizations need to differentiate themselves and relate how well they do their missions to get increasingly scarce public and private funding.

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Getting Trumped in Digital Marketing


A lot has been made of Donald Trump’s use, or abuse, of social media, especially his late-night Twitter tirades. At the beginning of summer, before the Republican presidential nominee’s “grab ’em by the pussy” meltdown, I wrote a blog post for Above the Fold Media, using Mr. Orange Head as an example of someone who has a poorly thought-through digital marketing plan.

I point out that Trump has been criticized for his narrow use of social media and not having a “ground game” – a sophisticated cross-digital media strategy to get out the vote, especially in all-important swing states. As a result of his lack of social media presence, Clinton’s campaign website was, at that time, recording five times the traffic of the Donald’s, and may be one reason she was trumping him in online donations.

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Chasing Hans Solo


When I picture Hans Kleefeld, I see him across from me at one of our lunches at the Musket, a German-Austrian restaurant in Toronto’s west end. Patrons could enjoy hearty plates of wiener schnitzel or the “delicious and delightfully tender barbecue port hox,” served with foaming steins of draft Weissbier.

The serving frau, however, would look contemptuously at our modest sandwich orders, washed back with coffee or water, and would leave us to our own devices for long stretches. Hans usually brought printed samples of good and bad design – culled from magazines or books, or snagged online – used to illustrate the columns he wrote for the graphic arts magazine I then edited.

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Not the Frozen North



Yes, camels once did roam the Arctic. Of course, this was about 3.5 million years ago during the Pliocene warm period. The remains of these extinct giants were discovered on Ellesmere Island by a research team led by the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Last year I worked with Carmen Serravalle, VP, creative at Scott Thornley + Company (STC), to create an ad that would run in the Globe and Mail, promoting the museum’s Centre of Arctic Knowledge and Exploration.

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Robert Redford and the Law of the Jungle


The trouble with trying to arrange a memorable vacation isn’t the lack of choice but too much of it. With so many options available on the Internet, it’s hard to know what offers the best experience. You might find yourself on a cookie-cutter tour and miss a destination’s hidden treasures.

Last year, I worked with the team at Frank Design Strategy in Calgary to help create a website for travel agent Natasha Rhodes. Her company, Rhodes Less Travelled, offers active and experiential vacations that enable clients to explore other cultures, get up close and personal with wildlife and immerse themselves in natural wonders, ranging from kayaking in the stillness of the High Arctic to exploring the lush jungles and wine lands of South Africa.

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Cause and Effect at Kids Help Phone


“I grew up being abused – physically, sexually, mentally. Like a lot of boys, I didn’t know how to ask for help. I kept things compartmentalized and cramped down. I’d have nightmares as my brain tried to cope with what was happening. . . .”

I tell Aidan’s story as part of the 2014-15 impact report written for Kids Help Phone, Canada’s only 24/7 counselling and information service for young people. As a charity with no government funding, Kids Help Phone depends entirely on the kindness of strangers, and friends, for the money, volunteers and expertise to carry out its mission, reaching kids in trouble through its phone line and, increasingly, the Internet, with its popular Live Chat service.

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From Link Building to Brand Building


At one time, search engine optimization was a narrowly defined profession, tinkering under the online hood to up page rankings in search engines, particularly Google. But SEO has made the transition from link building to brand building – from specialty supplier to essential digital marketing partner.

In the past year, I have served as senior writer on a number of projects with Toronto SEO/digital marketing agency Above the Fold Media, run by David Sahly. The work has included content marketing plans, specialized landing pages, pay-per-click campaigns and sales personas for lawyer, bankruptcy trustee, real estate and other clients, as well as site writing and blogging for ATF itself.

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