Everything is Content (No It Isn’t)

“Everything is content.”

“Content is anything that can be placed in a container.”

No, it isn’t. Here’s my provocation:

“Content” is media you would pay money to give your attention to, if you had to pay money for it.

And if content is anything that can be placed in a container, why do some containers have “skip” buttons?

The Voice is CONTENT.
People ACTUALLY WANT to watch content.

Those 30-second things in between The Voice are ADS.
People really aren’t here to watch ads but The Voice. But sometimes they’ll watch anyway.

So, we use THE THINGS PEOPLE WANT TO WATCH (CONTENT) to attract viewers, and then, we interrupt those things they want to watch with THINGS WE WANT THEM TO WATCH (ADS).

They are not the same thing. And it’s disingenuous to make them the same. Content, and the advertising that interrupts it, are two different things with different functions and purposes. Are advertising people so ashamed of what we do? Many of the “storytellers” and “content creators” on LinkedIn are still just making ads.

As to “content marketing,” yes, blog posts and videos can be “branded content” used as inbound marketing assets — for example, a job board website may publish material about “how to get your first internship” or “how to ask for a raise” or “how to transition from military to private contractor” which are things people are searching for, thus bringing the prospect to themselves (the inbound part).

But the sales material, brochures, websites, messaging decks, and actual display, broadcast, direct mail, out of home, or print ads, etc., that we marketing and advertising types create for our clients are not content; they’re marketing and advertising.

We call the material in these things “copy.”
It’s even written by people called copywriters.

So when we talk about “content” in advertising and marketing, what we SHOULD mean is something like an episode of “The Mandalorian” or “The Masked Singer,” or a fashion or sports or politics podcast, or useful blog posts like “How to Ask for a Raise” or “The Perfect Pesto Recipe,” or educational or entertaining branded video or live events where everybody tunes in to watch something spectacular in the moment — the good stuff people actually want, which we use to attract prospects to us.

Yes, we’re still doing interruption marketing because it still works, often better than all the digital wonders we’ve unleashed over the past twenty years. And let’s be honest: content marketing is the same kind of attention-switch model: We attract people looking for specific information or entertainment, then try to use that attention to sell something, even if over a much longer period of time.

Where the line gets slightly blurred is social media, but very, very few brands do it well, and few of their messages are organically amplified. And even “native advertising,” where paid ads with the form and function of social feeds are served, is still called advertising.

How many brands have managed to fully blend advertising into something that consumers would consider content? A few producers of artisanal goods have managed to turn their production process into entertainment, where each new video reveals the creation of the new limited-edition thing to be ordered and enjoyed. But beyond this small niche, most things are still either simply ads, or content, or content interrupted by ads.

Personally, I don’t think the answer is to bombard the public (and the internet) with a constant flood of weak and ignorable “branded content,” but to make our advertising more enjoyable by being more creative and connected with culture, or by making our advertising something that consumers can actually play with.

Here’s a quick test for determining whether something is content or not: If there’s a button that consumers can use to skip it, or a device or method or technology that they can use to jump over it, ignore it, block it, or make it go away, it’s not content; it’s advertising.

creative provocateur, strategy flaneur, culture ferrailleur, shite raconteur. nashville. qparrish.com