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When is clever too clever?

When is clever too clever?

It seems everybody is talking about content marketing, and for ISBA‘s Bob Wootton, it surfaces two big questions: what is it, and; how should it best be undertaken?

What is content marketing?

Short answer – how long is a piece of string?

But more seriously, it seems to be anything from old-fashioned advertorial, through to the creation and placement in the media of advertiser-created or funded audiovisual content on screens in or out of home, to pages and promoted comments in social media. And probably well beyond.

Thankfully, we have passed through the bullshit barrier wherein good ‘advertorial’ was renamed ‘native marketing’ by the digerati. With such a wide definition, it’s not surprising that everybody’s doing it. Or claiming to. And with ‘supply’ outstripping advertiser demand, the arguments about who is best qualified to deliver have started.

There is a lot of confusion, not least among clients, about who they should best use for what. This is not good as it leads to poor decisions and, in turn, bad work.”

For instance, should media agencies have ‘content divisions’ and can we expect them to be any good at it? Can creative agencies used to TV commercials write long-form or should it be left to experienced scriptwriters?

For what they’re worth, my answers, respectively: sure, if they’re any good at it, and time will tell, and; sometimes, and let’s not forget that the agencies who did early TVCs best in the 50s and 60s poached theatrical and radio types to sit alongside their print-steeped creatives.

It’s not at all clear to me that all this confusion is commercially justified. For example, my last column glanced on the changing economics of the creation of audiovisual content – the same piece of work can cost ten times as much if it is briefed as a TVC than if it is briefed as online video or viral. I’m often meeting with content creation companies who claim to be able make whole TV series for less than the price of a typical 30-second TVC nowadays.

What is clearer to me is that there is a lot of confusion, not least among clients, about who they should best use for what. This is not good as it leads to poor decisions and, in turn, bad work.

How should it best be undertaken?

This brings me to my main gist.

Most consumer research is feeding back the ‘insight’ that consumers are growing more savvy, a trend helped in no small part by widespread internet access. The newly-empowered consumer behaviour is demonstrated well by the middle classes, where savvy shoppers will make some of their purchases at Waitrose and some at Aldi, the supermarket as ‘lifestyle badge’ gradually giving way to ‘repertoire shopping’.

The importance of openness and transparency to content marketing is as important as it is to the more serious issue of how online data is used.”

For many years, people have been more and more able and inclined to read and decode advertising messages. There’s a lot of evidence that many actually enjoy doing so.

However, we need to be careful. So many of our commercial communications techniques come from the US, but over there, consumers are used to and even like being sold to all of the time, whereas we Europeans (get me – all modern and federal) aren’t and don’t. This is especially so with us Brits.

Increasingly, international marketers and their partners talk about seamless interweaving of messages into content. Invisibility of any join is a source of pride.

But let’s return to the newly-empowered, enlightened consumer on this side of the pond. They can see the join and, remember, they don’t necessarily like it. Indeed, instead of being impressed by such ‘cleverness’, many react with hostility if they feel commercial intent is concealed rather than signalled and declared. Not so clever after all, then.

But there is a fine line to tread. We do, after all, react positively to openness, especially when the marketer has gone to considerable lengths to produce truly engaging content. In this context, my favourite user of content marketing, by a long chalk, is Red Bull.

Sure it uses spot advertising a bit, but pretty much anyone in its target market knows them best for literally owning F1 and extreme sports and all the amazing and engaging content these event-centric opportunities provide.

I’m not a great fan of the product myself, but talk about focus and consistency. And then, just when we thought they’d licked it, they stepped up a gear by literally going stratospheric with Felix Baumgartner jumping to Earth from space. Respect.

The importance of openness and transparency to content marketing is as important as it is to the more serious issue of how online data is used, too. But perhaps that’s for another day.

Bob Wootton is director of media & advertising at ISBA.
@bobwootton / @ISBAsays
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Giovanni M. FABRIS, Managing Partner, Fabris Media Marketing Services (SaRL), on 12 Mar 2014
“Something like this had to be written, and you did. Thank you, Bob.”
Bob Wootton, Director, INSA, on 12 Mar 2014
“At the risk of committing the naff offence of commenting on my own piece, if my words resonate, look at industry doyen Richard Eyre's comments at today's ISBA Annual Conference. And Quantcast's Phil Macauley's in the panel sesh too...”

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