Happy, or Just Content?

by Jessica Ramesh

It’s among modern marketing’s most ubiquitous buzzwords. But what are we talking about when we talk about ‘content marketing?’ Owen Booth, Content Strategy Director at Realise, explains what it is, what it isn’t, and how to do it better. Or: ‘Why I Hate Content Marketing…’

Alright, alright. I don’t actually, actively hate content marketing.

If we’re talking about content marketing as the practice of creating valuable, useful content as a way to engage a potential audience – then what could there be to hate? I’m a content person. I believe in valuable, useful content. I like to think that making valuable, useful content is what I do. Whether it’s funny or informative or inspiring or moving, I want the things I create to be of worth to the person looking at it. Even if the work in question is something as unglamorous as, say, a guide to applying for a mortgage.

What I don’t understand, marketing people, is why anyone would set out to create content that wasn’t valuable and useful. Because that’s what the definition of content marketing seems to be suggesting: that there are people whose job it is to create stuff that isn’t funny, informative, inspiring or moving. Stuff nobody wants or needs, but which they’re going to have shovelled at them anyway. And I think we can all agree that the people who create that sort of stuff are the enemies of everything good and decent in the world, right?


Owen Booth, Content Strategy Director at Realise

In other words: shouldn’t all marketing be content marketing? (And didn’t Seth Godin say something along those lines at least 100 years ago?)

Content marketing as ‘not advertising’

So imagine you’ve created or commissioned a piece of useful, valuable content. Only, instead of a whitepaper or a blog post or an infographic, it’s a film. And as well as putting it on your website and your preferred social platforms, you also pay for it to be shown on TV. Does that mean it stops being content marketing and becomes an ad again?

What about ads that are funny or informative, or inspiring, or moving? Like that Ikea short film with the old man and that chair. I love that film. I’ll stand up and argue the case for calling it content marketing. I’ve only ever watched it on YouTube (‘owned’ rather than ‘bought’ media). I’ve shared it with friends – if it wasn’t for the final shot you wouldn’t even know it was for Ikea (and it would still work).


Ikea’s ‘Start Something New’ ad. Click here to view.

It’s at this point that most articles about content marketing mention the Michelin Guides: produced by a tyre manufacturer; of use to people who buy tyres. They’re great for building the brand. What they don’t contain is any form of tyre-related content.Very classy. Of course, high-end, luxury brands have been doing this sort of thing for years – mainly because actively selling to people is so, well, common.

Nowness, the horribly addictive ‘global culture platform for digital storytelling’ from luxury group Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), features beautifully produced films, galleries and articles on art, fashion, food and travel, but absolutely none of its parent company’s branding. It does, however, “represent the values of luxury”, and guarantees that those in the know make the right connection with the brand (and if you’re not in the know, LVMH probably doesn’t want to know you).

For more of the same, check out Dolce & Gabbana’s Swide.com, or the ‘Day8’ section of the Alfred Dunhill site. Or visit the ASW Globalist – a travel magazine promoting an ultra-exclusive club that you have no chance of ever joining (which perhaps makes it the ultimate in pure content marketing). And for a slightly more product-focussed variation – but one so lovely that it’s hard to mind – look at the ‘Stories’ section of the Rolls Royce website.

Native ads, advertorial and making things look like things they aren’t

The US content marketing agency NewsCred is currently touting for journalists to join its NewsRoom programme to create professional, ‘newsy’-looking content for brands including Toyota and Pepsi. Forbes’ BrandVoice now allows marketers to post their own ‘interesting and relevant’ content on Forbes.com (for a fee). BuzzFeed currently has over 700 advertisers posting their own versions of the site’s ‘top 10’ lists on its homepage.

Unlike old-school advertorials, these native ads don’t directly promote the brand behind them. But, exactly like advertorials, they are designed to ape the (usually very shareable) style of the site hosting them. Does this matter? You might argue that the greatest potential for harm is to the host. If BuzzFeed gets a reputation for unfunny, third party-created top 10 lists, people will go elsewhere; conversely, a funny top 10 list is a funny top 10 list – and shareable for all that – no matter who created it.

The key here is (again) the value and usefulness of the content. Bad content marketing is producing content that only looks like the thing it’s supposed to be, but which doesn’t actually do the same job. For example: creating a guide to applying for a mortgage in order to attract people to your site (because you know people are looking for that sort of content), but failing to make sure that the guide is actually any good.

Wasting people’s time is never good marketing. And speaking of which…

The anti-SEO

Google’s Penguin and Panda updates have (happily) reminded everyone that search engines are there to help people find the things they need, not to deliver unwitting victims into the clutches of evil link-builders. I exaggerate only slightly. Search engine optimisation is about making sure that people can find your content. If you don’t actually have the great content that people are looking for, then of course you’re going to lose out.

That doesn’t mean that you should just try to glue any old content on to your website to make yourself more findable – see the point about bad content marketing above. Generic ‘content’ isn’t the answer here: the rightcontent is.

Don’t produce a whitepaper (or a press release, or a blog post, or an infographic) unless you genuinely have something useful and interesting to say. And don’t think that hiring an agency to churn it out for you will necessarily get you off the hook either. What do you mean, you’re not sure that you do have anything useful and interesting to say? Of course you do. You’re a beautiful and unique flower, just like everybody else.

It’s all about good communications, surely?

American Express calls it ‘content with purpose’. Don’t create things that people don’t need. Think about how your content can actually help your customer/audience member/end-user. If you’re going to tell a story, make sure it has a point.

But you know all this, of course. It’s obvious. Nobody at Red Bull is saying, “Guys: remember that all our extreme sports videos need to be exciting and scary and inspiring and shareable.” That’s because exciting and scary and inspiring and shareable is already the definition of extreme sports videos. Surely nobody setting out to create branded content has a checklist that starts: ‘1.This content must be entertaining otherwise no one will want to watch it.’ Nobody I want to work with, anyway.

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria prepares to jump from the altitude of 29455 meters during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on July 25, 2012. // Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20121014-00004 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //

Scary, inspiring and shareable.” Felix Baumgartner prepares to jump for Red Bull.

Talk to some content experts. Help us understand your brands and your audiences. Tell us you want to create stuff that people are really going to love for a change (even if it’s just the world’s best guide to applying for a mortgage). And mean it.

I guarantee you’ll be rewarded with some amazing work. And nobody will ever say they hate content marketing ever again.


This article appears in Issue 20 of Figaro Digital magazine – January/February 2014.