Content – So much of it is Garbage
Published B&T – Feb 2017
That an industry has grown from nothing out of such an incredibly broad term is remarkable.
Content covers everything from movies to live sport and accountants’ newsletters to POS merchandising. To say you are a “content” company is like saying you help people – anything from a tour guide to a cardio-thoracic surgeon.
Leaving out content such as movies, TV programming, streaming and the like, it is estimated that over 90% of the content produced is not viewed. The concept of “less is more” comes to mind. We know that people are both time poor and have never had so many “content” options. People come in contact with thousands of brands a year. They have neither the time nor interest to seek out and consume the volume of “content” now being produced.
A good friend, who is a professor of market research, recently said to me “Marketers take their products way more seriously than consumers do.” For marketers, their products and brands are their life for 40, 50 or whatever number of hours they spend a week working. Consumers, unless it is a high cost purchase, give only a few moments thought to most purchases they make. (Many purchases are simply habitual). This fixation has been the case since I first joined an ad agency in 1983. We used to joke that clients think consumers sit around in their lounge rooms just waiting for their ad to come on TV. I always get a chuckle when people, who were not around in the 80s and 90s earnestly tell me how everything has changed today. No argument that the landscape has changed dramatically, but the fundamentals of consumer behaviour remain unchanged. Consumers have been getting continuously “smarter” since commerce first began and as a result, more demanding. For example, customer service is no more highly regarded now than it was in say 1910. It is just that now the customer has much higher expectations. The same with product quality, ease/availability of purchase, after sales service, “always on” etc. It is the expectations that have changed – technology has allowed for great improvements across the board.
Recently I dug out the notes from a retail workshop I created in 1997, 20 years ago. Here are some the key points highlighted:
- Past 20 years has seen rapid secularisation of society.
- General community rejection of establishment institutions
- Rapid shifts in the English language in acceptance if street talk.
- Shift from established, externally defined sources of authority and meaning to the individual and hypothesised legitimacy of viewpoint.
- Described as Post Modernism.
- Evident in Australia. “New Age” rejection of traditional values and science and acceptance of alternative values and medicine e.g. immunisation debate. (Yep, the luddites were around 20 years ago, trying to link immunisation to autism. The Iron Curtain came down in 1989. Millennials have no experience and hence recollection of the oppression and dreadful living standards of all countries oppressed under the yolk of Socialism/Marxism and are agitating for its return).
- Post Modernism coincides with the shift from the industrial to the information eras. Twenty years ago, all information was seen as “useful”. The written word was highly regarded, almost sacrosanct. Today, large volumes of useless information must be sifted through to find value. (The amount of useless information on the Internet was an issue even in 1997. Alternative facts?).
- Result for the marketer has been the emergence of “The Super Consumer”.
- Not sold to, they buy.
- Proactive and demanding
- Armed with product knowledge
- Shop comparatively, but not only on price i.e. health, not tested on animals, ethical investments, political correctness etc.
- Seven points of consumer driven marketing.
1. Product quality
2. Customer focus
3. Link brand with broader social values
4. Work with the consumer
5. Give something back to the consumer
6. Be honest
7. Respect consumer IQ
Those of us who have been in this business a long time (called experience), find it simultaneously amusing and frustrating to note the regurgitation of points we have been making for a couple of decades being referred to as “new”.
Here is another point being made, by a Content company, as if it is something they have recently “discovered” and are now sharing with the rest of the world:
At (name withheld), we fiercely manage and protect our brand voice. Why? The risk of not enforcing brand voice is scattered messaging, which confuses brand presence and can ultimately tarnish relevance and reputation. If someone can cover up your logo and can’t identify your brand or differentiate it from a competitor, weak brand voice may be to blame.
Wow, this is Advertising 101, but like so many communications basics, they have been lost in the race to the latest digital technology. I suppose the upside is at least the basics are coming back into fashion. Had someone put the above into an article or presentation back in the 80s, the response would have been “haven’t you got anything insightful to say, or are you just going to tell us how to suck eggs?”.
The “changes” so many harp on about today are not in base consumer behaviour, rather the result of technology providing greatly enhanced quality and consumer knowledge, resulting in much higher levels of expectations. For example, consumers are far more health conscious, though the primary drivers are still self- preservation and ego.
Social media was not around in 1997. It is responsible for most of the more ludicrous assumptions that have become entrenched, as the following quote from a recent article demonstrates:
Instagram Stories do not need to be shot professionally. They vanish in 24 hours. They humanise brands and forge a deeper connection between social audiences and brands. Instagram Stories can also be a great way for brands to experiment with different kinds of content and see what works before investing marketing dollars in that idea.
Humanise brands and forge a deeper social connection? What next? Take a Big Mac out on a date? Discuss the state of the economy with your new Nikes? It is bad enough that people are now treating animals as if they have the same emotions and feelings as people – called anthropomorphism, as we see with the science challenged Vegans. But treating inanimate objects as if they are people crosses the line into outright craziness.
Consumers do not want “relationships” with brands, rather brands they can trust. It is the absurd notion of relationships that has been responsible for much of the growth of the Content industry. (Marriage is the closest relationship we have outside of blood relatives. Yet around 40% of marriages end in divorce!).
On numerous occasions, I have read content producers say what they do is NOT advertising. But times are changing. Another quote from a major Content player:
“If Comedy Central can produce ads that are genuinely funny and shareable, they’ll be able to get reach and engagement—the two primary KPIs of any ad campaign,” said Kevin Delie, the director of publisher development at TripleLift, a software platform for native programmatic ads. “For brands, this means the campaign gets attention, which is everything. For the network, they may be able to save TV revenue that is at risk.”
This shows a distinct lack of understanding of advertising.
- Reach. This is a media KPI, not creative. It goes without saying that if your target doesn’t see your advertising it is not going to be effective. Hardly an epiphany.
- Engagement. Really? What about relevance, branding and communicating WIIFM (what’s in it for me)? Advertising history is littered with campaigns that “engaged” but failed miserably due to being off strategy. It takes more than an engaging piece of communication to make effective advertising.
- Native Advertising. Called “advertorials” (been around a long, long time) and involves some level of deceit. For those who cannot come up with relevant and impactful advertising. Certain irony in this – we say the consumer is continuously getting smarter, yet we try and fool them.
- With the proliferation of media options, advertisers must now take a far more integrated approach to their communications. Rather than try and cover all possibilities, advertisers should be focusing on the combination of options that gives them the greatest reach and impact. Having as many people in your social media team as the number of people who read your posts is not an effective approach to budget optimisation.
The role of advertising is to sell, not to entertain. With so much competition for attention boring ads don’t cut it. But neither do entertaining pieces that do nothing to stimulate purchase.
When I was working on Toyota in the late 1980s, the acronym AIDA was used to describe the desired response from advertising:
A – Attention
I – Interest
D – Desire
A - Action.
So, what is different today?