What the Hell is Content?
It was not that long ago when someone mentioned “content”, I thought they must be happy.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, content means “peaceful happiness” and “satisfied”.
Many a song has been written about this - according to The Rolling Stones “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. (“I Can’t Get No Contentedness”, probably would not have had the same impact).
And we are told that “Money cannot buy happiness” (friends either, though I have heard it said it will buy you a better class of enemy).
“Can’t buy me love” is also a truism, but you can rent it.
It was during the 90s, the term “Content is King” was coined. Pay TV had arrived and instead of 3 commercial stations plus the ABC and SBS, we could now, for a monthly fee, have access to more channels than hours in a day. (I didn’t count, but just by looking at the programme guide I knew there were a shitload.)
A shitload of channels to choose from at first sounds very enticing. That was until one looked at what was running on these channels and it became clear there were a shitload of channels, mostly showing shit.
Reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, Bewitched, F-Troop, Are You Being Served? and Carry On movies, did not result in viewers feeling content.
Before we (or me anyway) knew it, the 21st century had arrived and with it the number of viewing, listening and reading options exploded. A shitload to the power of a shitload.
In the past 15 years, we have become inundated with advertising, there are just so many dam places to put it. Recently at a pub for dinner, I ducked into the bathroom for a quick pit stop (hope you are not eating). With no spare urinals, I went into a cubicle and being a polite and modest man, closed the door behind me. To my shock/horror/surprise, there on the toilet door, was the dinner menu. Fabulous placement.
Rather than a headline saying, “Cut Out the Middle Man and Flush Your Meal”, it not only showed the full menu, but also specials of the day.
Content, in a wide variety of forms, has been around for a long, long time. Lawyers and Accountants sent their clients monthly newsletter. Developers required collateral materials, recipe books, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, signs, even Hallmark greeting cards required something to go in them.
And all of this was prior to the commercialisation of the internet and social media. Media agencies have never had so much inventory to sell and the Content Expert was born. (Couldn’t really call themselves “Satisfaction Experts”. That name is associated with the world’s oldest profession).
I go to the gym, not for body building, but to try and fix screw ups to my back, made by surgeons. Another topic, but one after 7 years I am considering writing a book about.
With screens everywhere, they need content. I watched in stunned disbelief as stock footage (certainly wasn’t shot specifically) for the new Maclaren car came on. With a voice over more appropriate to selling home cladding than supercars, the V/O guy eloquently explained it: “braked so hard, you wanted to throw up”, “it handled and felt like a go-kart (exactly want you want for $500K plus) and if you could afford it (yes, he said that), was the most fun you could have on 4 wheels”.
It was obvious the media people had sold the space and left it up to God knows who, to fill it with “Content”. A content expert: of course.
Saying you do content is like saying you “help people for a living”. That could encompass everything from a tour guide to a cardio-vascular surgeon. Consider all these possible forms of content and then consider how anyone could possibly be an expert in them all.
A movie script or scripts for a mini-series and then move onto to a Gammy winning song, a TV ad that not just looks great, but achieves all set objectives, a website, knock out newsletters for accountants and lawyers, a Pulitzer Prize book, pick up a Walkley Award for journalism, write a radio ad and supporting print ad, a weekly blog, a few banner ads, an award-winning documentary, LinkedIn profiles, Instagram and throw a Soapie or two in there along with a Reality TV show. This is all “Content” and hence a Content Expert should be able to handle all of them. Maybe not winning the nominated awards, but at least make a decent fist of them all.
I have also wondered if content is just the written word, or does it involve images? People are visual animals. Most would have heard the expression “A picture tells a thousand words”?
I have met some extremely talented creative people who can both write and draw/design. But with so many graphic design programs available (Adobe Illustrator/InDesign/Photoshop, GIMP, Inkscape etc), anyone can claim to be creative. They are more “keyboard monkeys” than artists. Rather than a tool, the computer becomes the answer.
But I am not describing just “anyone”. Comparable to someone who is genuinely ambidextrous, they can write with and use their left and right hands equally well. A true “content expert” would not be someone who could write well and “do a bit of design”, or vice versa.
I Googled “what does a content creator do?” with the following result:
A content creator is someone who is responsible for the contribution of information to any media and most especially to digital media. They usually target a specific end-user/audience in specific contexts.
Not a great help really, “any media and most especially digital media”. I am with Professor Mark Ritson when he says anyone who now still calls themselves a digital marketer is a poorly educated idiot (or words to similar effect).
I can picture the debate inside the average household – “Let’s watch digital media tonight”, “No, I want to watch traditional media”. “No digital”. “Piss off, its traditional tonight, you had digital last night.”. All in blue erupts!
Have we not moved on from this inane debate between digital versus traditional and recognised integration is the answer? There are no lines of demarcation.
There are so many platforms to reach the target market today, none of which have the reach of traditional media last century, but the benefit is the ability to target far more accurately and reduce wastage. (From small groups to one on one).
Although very 20th century, when was the last time you saw a major advertiser without visual brand guidelines or a style guide? None? And why would that be?
Irrespective of the medium/platform, our role is to create messages, tell a story and this is best created by a team. One whose strength is writing, the other who best communicates visually. And working together, a creative team is not just 2 individuals, rather an output where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. The very definition of what a team does.
One is called a writer, the other an art director.
So, the next time you meet someone who claims to be a “content expert”, say to them, “that must be very satisfying”.