Do you know what a golden plover is?
It's a game bird, i.e. a bird that is shot for sport—though it seems a fairly uneven sport, if you ask me. The odds don't exactly favour the bird.
Or do they?
You see, the plover is quick. Very quick—as you would be if someone were trying to shoot you.
Of course, it's not all about incentive. Genetics plays its part too. The plover is built to be a fairly snappy mover. So snappy that, on a hunting trip in Ireland in 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver missed one.
The miss appears to have led to a discussion among his hunting companions about which is the fastest game bird in Europe, the plover or the red grouse. Maybe the question should have been whether or not Sir Hugh was a rotten shot. Regardless, the debate about the birds remained unresolved. No reference book could provide the answer.
Long story short, Sir Hugh reckoned plenty of other arguments were being held along similar lines—most likely in pubs (but probably not about game bird velocity). Fastest this, biggest that, loudest the other. So, he decided a book of records should be created.
Did I mention he was managing director of Guinness Breweries at the time?
In 1954, the first edition of The Guinness Book of Records was published. A thousand copies were printed and given away as a marketing initiative. The next year, a hardcover edition was produced and put on sale. It sold brilliantly and became a bestseller.
You roughly know the rest.
Here's the point of this post.
In the mid-1950s, a company created a book bulging with information people found useful and, initially at least, gave it away for free. The book grew to become a household name—respected, sought after and beloved even. Along the way, it helped promote a brand of beer and (I'm guessing here, I don't have any figures) surely drove sales upwards.
These days, this sort of thing is called 'content marketing' and it's often presented as if it's something new. Something of our internet and social media age. It's not.
The Guinness Book of Records isn't even the oldest example. The Michelin Guide was created in 1900 by the Michelin brothers, who made car tyres. The company they founded still does. The book contained all sorts of useful and practical information for the motorist. It too was given away for free to begin with. By the mid-1920s, it had evolved into a restaurant and hotel guide awarding stars for fine dining.
I'm certain there are even older examples.
The point is that the concept of content marketing isn't new. Companies have been giving away valuable content for free and reaping the rewards for ages.
By the way, the plover is quicker than the red grouse. It's not even close.