The Original Content Marketing: An Unlikely Source
Storytelling Communications

The Original Content Marketing: An Unlikely Source

In some ways, it seems content marketing is a new trend that’s come to prominence in recent years, but in other ways, it’s far older. The Furrow, published by John Deere, is often cited as the first example—or, at least, the first successful example. The farming-focused magazine began in 1895 and is still serving the same audience today. So is it the original content marketing? Probably. But my first exposure came from a far different source.

Anne of the Island

Growing up, I loved books by L. M. Montgomery, including, but not limited to, the Anne of Green Gables series. Most people are familiar with the first book, maybe the second, and the two miniseries. In truth, there are eight books altogether, and I read them all over and over again. How could I not, with a heroine who shared my name and my flair for drama?

Anne of Green Gables In the third book, Anne of the Island, Anne goes off to college, and here, readers, is where I found my original content marketing experience. She shares a house with her friends, takes classes, has courtships, and generally does what college students do—including trying her hand at various enterprises. In chapter 11, Anne announces her decision to write a story for publication, telling her best friend, Diana, about it:

“I don’t know [the plot] yet. I want to get hold of a good plot. I believe this is very necessary from an editor’s point of view. The only thing I’ve settled on is the heroine’s name. It is to be Averil Lester. Rather pretty, don’t you think?”

In chapter 12, Anne finishes her story. It’s a melodrama about a beautiful heroine and her true love, complete with drama, weeping, and a happy ending. She shows the manuscript, now titled Averil’s Atonement, to Diana:

“Now, Diana, tell me candidly, do you see any faults in my story?”

“Well,” hesitated Diana, “that part where Averil makes the cake doesn’t seem to me quite romantic enough to match the rest. It’s just what anybody might do. Heroines shouldn’t do cooking, I think.”

“Why, that is where the humor comes in, and it’s one of the best parts of the whole story,” said Anne. And it may be stated that in this she was quite right.

Unsurprisingly, the story is roundly rejected. Anne hides it away, never to think of writing again. That would be the end of things, but later, in chapter 15, Anne gets an unexpected letter and a check. Diana had made a few changes and sent it in for a contest for a story to introduce a new baking powder.

“Of course I couldn’t be anything but pleased over your unselfish wish to give me pleasure,” she said slowly. “But you know—I’m so amazed—I can’t realize it—and I don’t understand. There wasn’t a word in my story about—about—” Anne choked a little over the word—”baking powder.”

“Oh, I put that in,” said Diana, reassured. “It was as easy as wink—and of course my experience in our old Story Club helped me. You know the scene where Averil makes the cake? Well, I just stated that she used the Rollings Reliable in it, and that was why it turned out so well; and then, in the last paragraph, where Perceval clasps Averil in his arms and says, ‘Sweetheart, the beautiful coming years will bring us the fulfillment of our home of dreams,’ I added, ‘in which we will never use any baking powder except Rollings Reliable.'”

Anne is devastated and humiliated. The story is published in several magazines and printed in pamphlets that are given away at shops. Her friends and family are proud of her, but she is ashamed of writing for any reason as baseless and low as for profit.

Examining Anne’s Reaction

This, readers, was my experience with original content marketing—not that I knew what it was back when I first read the books. I was always confused about why Anne was so devastated by the baking powder. After all, she was published, and she earned some money. Now, as someone working in the content marketing industry, I have a different take. Her objection is something I hear occasionally from other writers. Here are my thoughts on her reaction:

  • Is it really embarrassing to write for money? There are people out there who write only for the need to express themselves or satisfy an artistic outlet, but the rest of us hope to sell our writing and make money. There’s nothing wrong with valuing your own work, and there’s no shame in taking on an assignment that comes with a paycheck.
  • Is writing for a brand still art? It can be. If you’re putting yourself into the article in the hopes of creating something of value to the reader, there’s no reason you can’t create something beautiful.
  • Is Anne right to feel embarrassed? Yes, but not for the baking powder. Anne writes a truly terrible story that not only gets rejected all over but that no one in the book can discuss without criticizing. The fact that the baking powder company takes the story at all is testament to the humor in the baking scene and the possible lack of better entries. If she’s going to be embarrassed, it should be for her clichés, awkward plot, and refusal to take constructive criticism.

Averil’s Atonement was the original content marketing, at least in my world. Even as a child, I remember thinking that Anne was acting very silly about the whole endeavor. Who knows? Maybe that’s what lead me to this field after all.

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