Blending the art and the science of content in the age of technology

There is a dualism in the advertising market, and it is the opposing forces of technology and content that are keeping a balance, says Liz Wilson, chief executive of Stack.

Liz Wilson, chief executive, Stack
Liz Wilson, chief executive, Stack

Things move quickly in Cannes. It didn’t take long for what was perhaps the most shared slide of the week from PJ Pereira of Pereira & O’Dell to become the subject of several Twitter spoofs.

But given the immense focus on content at the Festival, the slide merits another look:

 

It’s the balance between the second and third lines that lies at the heart of how brands are starting to approach people. Advertising has long had a conversation about the balance of science and art over the years, looking at the rational and emotional, magic and logic in the creative idea. This has now advanced with the debate around technology, innovation, data and engineering versus the role of imagination, creativity, and craft.

Two opposing forces: tech and content

There’s a dualism in the market, two opposing forces, tech and content, balancing each other. Yet brands face the challenge of needing to embrace both sides, of keeping the art and the science in sync at all times.

That’s why advertisers need agencies that can understand both, that combine their creativity with knowledge of technology and data. R/GA pulled this off with Nike Fuelband and, more recently, with the "Game Before the Game" work for Beats by Dre (surely destined to be a big winner at next year’s awards).

Other agencies are on top of this too. Especially on the West Coat of the US – 72andsunny with work such as its "Magna Carta Holy Grail" viral for Samsung and the aforementioned Pereira & O’Dell with its "The Beauty Inside" campaign for Intel/Toshiba.

Great examples of creativity combined with a sharp focus on technology and data-drive, targeted delivery. Yet bizarrely, given our creative and marketing backgrounds, it is content that we find hardest to define nowadays. We all know tech when we see it but content is loose, resists categorisation and encompasses just about everything from a tweet to a blog post to the Lego Movie.

What’s the point?

Now, of course, everybody’s a publisher and content is even becoming a business strategy for some. Take, for example, Net-A-Porter, which has decided that it’s a media company with an audience that happens to sell items they feature, rather than just a retailer that publishes stuff.

Advertisers in general are embracing a content-led approach. Some 74% of companies plan to increase their content marketing spend during 2014, according to an Econsultancy report. However, given that content can be generated by myriad departments inside the company and a range of agencies outside, having a clear overarching strategy is vital. Brands need to define a purpose, a strategy, and guidelines around subject matter, visual style, approach and tone of voice. The more content there is, the more important that becomes.

But what’s the point? This amounts to a great deal of effort and, frequently, leads to work that is not as measurable or direct as a piece of traditional advertising. There’s a big issue, in particular, around the difficulty of providing a consistent and comparable means of measuring the impact of content across channels and devices and it’s important that the industry addresses this.

Content creates a relationship that transcends what you’re selling

It will be worth the effort. Content sits somewhere in the space between advertising and PR, it relates to both the customer and the company equally and it’s designed to build trust, a shared agenda and purpose with the audience and a relationship that transcends what you’re selling. It reaches the parts other advertising, and brands that talk only about themselves and their product, simply can’t reach.

Most importantly, advertisers need to be aware that a content-driven approach is customer-centric, not brand-centric, so it needs to anticipate what customers want or need at any particular point in the customer journey.

As such content may well end up being the new brand. Previously the brand was the emotional shortcut between company and customer and brand advertising often showed who the brand was for. Now brands are often defined by what they talk about and share - so content becomes the emotional shorthand for the kind of connection and for the relationship the brand has with its audience. And it’s the content they put out that proves the company and its culture, not just its product, are relevant to their audience.

Pulling this off requires a willingness to embrace entertaining content combined with a firm grasp of technology and data.

Understanding this is a challenge that will preoccupy the advertising business for at least the next decade.

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