October 01, 2012

Web Litter: Now It's Content

The dismal record of online advertising has caused a minor crisis among the thousands of agencies who make a living creating the stuff.

It is getting difficult for them to convince anyone that blogs or podcasts or YouTube videos or "user generated content" or banners are the marketing miracles they were once purported to be. No one is that stupid anymore. I mean, except the odd CMO.

So the folks who create all this web clutter have had to look for some new magic to sell to today's ultra-cutting edge marketing prodigies. That miracle is called “content.”

Content isn't a new thing. But it is enjoying a new life. You see, all the specific things that the web promoters promised us would be magic have flopped. So they've resurrected "content" because it is non-specific -- no one knows what the hell it is. And if you don't know what it is, how can you criticize it?

Like most people, when you hear some geekazoid yapping about "content" you probably pretend to know what he's talking about. But you don't. And here's the really cool thing -- neither does he!

What exactly is content, you ask? Well, it seems that as long as you can upload it, and it's not an ad, it’s "content."

So all that online detritus that no one pays any attention to -- the blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos and Facebook pages and corporate manifestos -- have a new life. They are now “content.” Previously they were just litter blowing unnoticed through the dark, dusty corridors of the web. But now that they have been promoted to "content" they are once again awesome.

How, you may ask, did things that were clearly unproductive become awesome again? To understand this you have to understand the web marketing mind.

The web marketing mind is very imaginative. It cares about high-minded philosophy. In fact, a marketing activity without a philosophy -- for example TV advertising -- makes no sense to these people. The fact that TV ads are stupid and annoying is all they can see. The fact that they actually fucking work is of no interest to them. Without a noble purpose they cannot be taken seriously.

Back before all the underachieving online activities became "content" they were supposed to sell something. This is anathema to the web marketing mind. Now that they are content, they are no longer allowed to sell anything. From the Content Marketing Institute:
"Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent."
Yeah, that's what the public is waiting for -- the marketing industry to make them more intelligent.

Content, it's been said, is a demonstration of your like-mindedness with your customer. It shows that you have a "shared-purpose" with her. It is a "utility" and is “compelling” and provides the consumer with "value." It is helpful and fascinating and because your customer appreciates it so much she will engage with your brand and become a huge fan of your company.

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? This is the just the kind of virtuous philosophy that the web marketing mind can really embrace.

There’s just one little problem. It's all bullshit.

According to CNN there are over one trillion pages of "content" on the web. Think about that for a moment. One trillion.

I did a little math.

If the average consumer devours one page of "content" every fifteen minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it will take her over 27 million years to get around to your content.

You might say this content stuff has quite a long pay out.

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