“content” is an meaningless buzzword

The idea of “content” as it is used these days in marketing presentations is an empty idea. In presentation-speak it is nothing more than a buzzword that agencies use to try to sell in an idea. In execution-reality, content is neither compelling, engaging nor original.

Content has been commodified by agencies seeking to replicate successes like Fallon’s BMW Films and Crispin’s Subservient Chicken…but without an actual idea. These agencies make presentations where they say things like “this effort will be supported by compelling branded content online.”

Compelling branded content online historically ends up as a limp and not-very-entertaining long format commercial masquerading as something consumers might be interested in – because it is sold in as a tactic and not as the idea itself. Usually the so-called “compelling content” is coupled with an appeal to consumers to “create their own content” within the same brand manager-limited parameters that the ad agency is working under.

The problem with selling content as a presentation bullet point is simple. There are lots of content creators out there, from the traditional networks and movie studios and record labels to the new media outlets like blogs and YouTube and social networking.

Compelling content comes from a great idea, not because the Marketing Director thinks that it’s time to get a video up on the internet.

The problem with creating content within the brand-accepted restrictions used to guide televisions spots is also simple. There is a lot of “content” out there, especially in the online space. BMW Films was a success partially because it had the first-mover advantage and partially because online movies allowed BMW to show its cars being taken to the limit of performance – without a super about the dangers of driving like a getaway driver. Subservient Chicken was a success because it matched the quirky vibe of the internet while offering interaction. Mainly, both were successful because of reasons that we don’t know as much as we feel. And we all feel, I am sure, that they cannot be replicated or incrementally improved upon.

The next big thing is going to be a big departure. The internet demands as much.

The problem with giving consumers the change to “create their own content” about the brand, but then giving them a brief and tightly restricting their ability to take the brand where they want to take it is simple. That isn’t control. It’s the equivalent of giving a child a coloring book and four colors of crayon and telling them that they have to stay within the lines.

You might get minor variations, but it’s the same old story and it’s not particularly original.

There have been a lot of recently-launched campaigns that hinge on “content” lately, and all have been duds. From Xerox’s Incredible Inc to Schick’s disastrous consumer video Challenge to the three more “online video and UGC video contest” programs that are going live this week, the generally-accepted idea of “content” is a dud.

It is generic, soulless and unoriginal.

To paraphrase Mugatu from the movie Zoolander, “it’s all the same campaign! Doesn’t anybody see this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”


One response to ““content” is an meaningless buzzword

  1. dearjanesample

    Ah yes, “user generated content” … if I had a penny for every time I heard that at a meeting at the BDA, I would b rich by now.
    Usually the phrase popped up around the time the “great new website” idea was presented, which always necessitated the constant update of the actual content of the site and someone asked “who is going to write the content for the site?” Really asking if we were going to have a copywriter work none-stop on coming up and writing new content for the site. We all knew that the client wouldn’t pay for that so someone always came out with the idea to utlize “user generated content.” Because every site is sooo exciting that everyone will be scrambling to put up their content.
    The few things I learned about user generated content over the years are:
    1) the content will suck
    2) people will not provide you with their content, unless they get something. you need a contest/giveaway/ fame … something
    3) clients will inevitably want to control/vet/monitor the content.
    4) the vetted content will suck

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