September 22, 2014

Why I Hate Content

In the material world there is no single word that encompasses both art and a beer spill.

There is no word that creates a unity between a Rodin sculpture and a photo of a foot.

There is no term that forges an equivalency between a Gershwin melody and a bloody handkerchief.

In the online world there is such a word. It is content.

Content is anything you can upload to the web. In other words, it is pretty much anything.

It is a Shakespeare sonnet and a picture of my cat's ass.

It bestows value on anything, and in so doing, debases everything.

It takes the symbol of a witless age - the selfie - and gives it status. You're not guilty of narcisstic self-indulgence, you're creating content!

Worst, it is spoken of with respect. It is, in some quarters, regarded as a serious and compelling expression of online value.

If there has ever been an asset with a lower value, I'd like to know what it is. 

We have conferences about content. We have books about content. We have seminars about it, and companies that specialize in it.

Content is everything, and it's nothing. It's an artificial word thrown around by people who know nothing, describing nothing.

It is an excuse masquerading as a resource.

Content is a con.

It is the ultimate Seinfeld episode: it's a show about nothing.


luisgdelafuente said...

Content is the fuel that the so-called 'social networks' need to keep working, that is, selling irrelevant ads.

Baz said...

you just made me want even more content.

Samuel Scott said...

Bob, thank you! So many marketers say that "content is king!" as though they have discovered something new and profound. Nope.

Marketers and salespeople have always used "content." It's the sales catalogues that door-to-door salesmen gave to housewives. It's the ads that people put on TV. It's the CDs that AOL mailed to everyone. Today, it's blog posts, infographics, e-books, online videos, and more. But the principle remains the same.

"Content" is just the stuff that companies put in the hands of potential customers to get them to buy. Content is what contains the (marketing) message that is communicated (to the target audience).

James Coakes said...

I was at an event about a week ago listening to a marketing guy from an insurance company talking excitedly about their link up with Jamie Oliver and the content they were going to be creating. I can't turn over a TV channel without seeing Jamie bloody Oliver so why on earth would I want to watch an insurance company's Youtube channel showing more of it?

And this is the people who are investing money in it.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

Content is, to quote the equally irritable George Parker, "a giant wank."

Ian Schafer said...

The irony is that this displays right under the comments section:

ChrisPollard77 said...

The term "content" needs context. Are pages of selfies content? Technically, yes. But I would argue, no. They are the dust bunnies of the internet. Relevant for a fleeting second as they sear your retinas, and quickly swept away and forgotten. "Content" ... ah, REAL content is not a con. That IS what defines a website. And defines the traffic it attracts.

Tim Orr said...

I am reminded of a great client I once had who said, "I can't write. Oh, I can fill up a page with words that look like they make sense. But I can't write." There's an advertising writing "guru" out there who is reasonably good at putting "tease" headlines on the most banal copy imaginable. You're sucked in, and start reading, then realize you've been had.

Boopboopadoop said...

You hate content. And I love this post. Couldn't agree more.

I used to be called a "Copywriter". Now I'm a "Content person."
And I noticed that at exactly the time that this shift in terminology happened, it seemed like words were suddenly devalued.

Any other writers notice this trend?

Mondoworld said...

Content fuels the loudly proclaimed belief that any idiot, ill-informed, stupid opinion has a 'right' to be heard, rather than simply held.

Jonathan Rodgers said...

Can't tell you the number of job listings I've seen for "digital copywriter". What the fuck is that? As far as I can tell, the only requirement is that you have to be able write without empathy, wit, or insight.

Shanghai61 said...

I think by 'digital copywriter' they mean you should have enough fingers either to hold a pen or peck at a keyboard ...

Bentos said...

The creative process is special and should only be undertaken by special people with the requisite training. How dare ordinary people make videos of themselves talking about their lives and get way, way, way more views than a Cannes Grand Prix winning, expensively crafted, 30 second piece of distilled disruption?

They should get back on the sofa where they belong.

Jim Powell said...

I wonder what will come after content. The rules are that content must die soo. Thems the rules I don;t make 'em. Cue headline "Content was King now he's dead long live...blah. (tasted vom there).

I know it is dangerous to make prediction but here goes.

I am backing 'vicinity marketing' - yeah 'vicinity', good word isn't it. It will be described as marketing to people who are close by physically, intellectually, spiritually, unattainably, spaciously and emotionally. The old style content often lacked vicinity which is why it was bound to die. Vicinity cannot fail in this way. Because everything 'we' do is in vicinity so you can see it, feel it and be in its vicinity.

Too much traditional advertising and content turns off people because it is not in their vicinity. Vicinity marketing has shown via neurological studies that the human brain responds best to vicinity marketing because the primitive part of the human brain responses to sensation in it's vicinity and not to things that aren't. So to create a consumer marketing must 'vicinitise' itself or if you're american 'vicinitize' itself both constantly, always and seldomly. It will be the most exciting time to work in advertising ever.

Or people might continue to increase their spend on own label products as brand advertising fails to use reason to why someone should pay more for its stuff.

Tim Orr said...

Sorry, but ????

Charlotte said...

I love copywriters. The ability to write a great headline is an awesome talent. So few understand that.

I am not a copywriter, I blog. Huge difference. Writing about stuff is not copywriting, therefore you guys are my heroes.

Stephen Eichenbaum said...

You wanna know what's almost as devalued as content?
Your vote.
That's how corrupt and worthless the political system has become
in this country.

Eccles9 said...

Jim Powell.

I laughed and then I saw it all coming true.

Horribly, horribly true...

VinnyWarren said...

just do a brilliant advertising campaign for what you're selling. that's technically "content" too. nobody cares, nobody gives a shit. deal with that reality.

Michael said...

Back in the 70’s Susan Sontag wrote a collection of essays in which she blathered on that photography can’t be art because any two-year old can point a camera and push the button. Never mind the works of Strand, Cunningham, Koudelka, Steichen, etc. And might as well make the argument that all painting is crap because there are black and red Velvet Elvis's out there.

Content is a word. It’s the one we happen to use today to describe the collection of words, sounds and pictures we create across a range of formats and channels -- online and offline. What matters is whether it's good and does the job. The bad stuff is bad, period. Better to judge based on merits, not job titles, how many poseurs and institutes there are, or what it's called.

Mel Webster said...

I am content with this blog post about silly content

Matt Lashley said...

Selfies as content. Nice.

Two hundred years into the future, when children learn by viewing rapid successions of images projected directly into their eyeballs, what will be the primary lesson taught about the first twenty years of the 21st century? That most American teenagers and twenty-somethings were affected by a non-life-threatening physical deformity known as "duck lips".

Maarten Bakker said...

You deserve a megaphone the size of an Airbus A380.

Scribbleheart said...

I too used to be a "copywriter", both here in France and back in the States. But suddenly, I am actually obliged to describe myself as a "content creator", because agencies, especially digital agencies, love "content" almost as much as they love "leveraging evergreen content for a more impactful global reach". Fleh.

Stefan Kirby said...

"Complaining about something without suggesting a solution is called 'whining'".

I get where he's coming from, but I think he's just venting a half-baked opinion.

Obviously there is a difference between a Shakespearean sonnet and a picture of a cat's ass.

What he has failed to acknowledge is the difference between meaningful, or "valuable" content, and garbage content.

Yes, the fact that "content" as a concept - as a substance - as a commodity - is over-emphasized in it's abstraction; and that books and seminars exist to address the concept of "content" is a sign of many people missing the point in pursuit of the dollar; but he's failed to voice an acknowledgement that content is a thing which can be useful OR garbage.

It's like people. Ask any misanthrope, and they'll be happy to tell you how much they hate people, and how much people suck, and what is wrong with people, but that opinion still doesn't acknowledge the fact that what is responsible for his opinion is the fact that some people seem to suck, but obviously we all know that not all people do.

However, I think it's a sign of both ignorance and hubris (a very disastrous combination) to choose to hate "the thing" rather than to hate "the bad manifestations of the thing".

If this CEO wants to decry the concept of "content", because to him it has become a tiresome buzzword, then he's going to be at a disadvantage, professionally, because he's apparently unable to distinguish between good content and garbage content where it matters - in his own expression of his thoughts.

Again, I understand his dissatisfaction with the buzzword and the buzz culture around it, but he needs to realize that a box of old photos and a box of dog shit both contain "content"; he needs to get over his problem with the buzz culture which focuses on the general word, and focus himself on identifying what is worthwhile.

Content is content, no matter how much you dislike the buzz culture. It's just a word to describe a thing.

Photos, recipes, dog shit, old G,I Joe figures; whatever is contained within that box is "content" and you can't escape that fact (except by speaking a different language where they have a /different word/ to refer to "the stuff contained within the box").

I'd have felt more enriched reading this blog post if he'd embarked on an intelligent discussion about valuable content versus garbage content, and why the overuse of the buzzword itself is unhelpful, or even maladaptive, in successful advertising (or in running a business)... I was expecting it to go somewhere, but just as he seemed to be gearing up for the deeper discussion, suddenly I reached the end of the post.

Instead I kind of came away with a tarnished opinion of the author for assuming that his half-thought-out rant was something people needed to read.

When you just want to vent random feelings just to get them off your chest, even though it's not important enough for other people to read, they have sites like LiveJournal for that.

The fact that he felt this expression of distaste was meaningful enough to share with the world seems to just mean that he's pretty good at generating his own garbage content, and not recognizing how similar it is to a picture of a cat's ass.

Christopher Cudworth said...

This reminds me of a book I just read (rather old) by Tom Wolfe basically dissing the art world for trying to create the market it needed to sell work and simultaneously killing its own inventions in the process. At one point the argument (and judgement) was over how flat you could make the surface of a painting. This article feels just like that.