Adland's quest to reclaim content from factory lines
A view from Claire Beale

Adland's quest to reclaim content from factory lines

I've spent an awful lot of time this past week talking to writers in the US. It's been one of the most thoroughly depressing things...

There was a time when I could finesse the word "writer" to imply a particular craft specialism: journalist, copywriter, novelist, speech-writer. Not any more. The writers I’ve been speaking to don’t work like that now. Most of them run factories – content factories.

Every time we talk about the rise of (commercial) content, another factory springs up to satisfy increasing demand

They write anything, for anyone, and price it by the, er, metre. They work like this. You (the commissioner) put your (necessarily) formulaic brief in at the front end – a magazine feature/brochure copy/conference speech/press ad. You specify how many words you want, how many jokes, how many quotes from experts. Then the writer twiddles a few dials and off the end of their production line plops your copy. The writers don’t expect you to expect them to know anything particularly deep about the subject matter you’re asking them to address. And, of course, they don’t expect you to expect them to have any emotional commitment to the work. No surprise that the end result often has no edges, no colour – but, hey, at least it’s something to tip into the web’s bottomless pit.

OK, not every writer is quite this cynical and functional about content production, but plenty are. And it’s our collective fault. We’ve all been complicit in giving away content for free, and users have come to expect it. The impact this has had on the money available to fund quality content has been well-aired; rock bottom, writers can’t expect to get paid what they used to get paid, so who can blame them for churning out good-enough stuff.

The demand for content seems unstoppable, not helped by the rush from marketers to be up with this new new thing. Every time we talk (and write) about the rise of (commercial) content, another content factory springs up to satisfy increasing demand. And the water line that threatens to drown us all in this sea of bland and unwanted words and pictures rises that bit higher.

Anyway, it was in the midst of my exploration into the working habits of US writers (and they’re just a magnification of what’s happening in our industry everywhere) that the proof for our feature this week landed on my desk.

Jeremy Craigen says Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads? is "more than just a book full of brilliant press ads and commercials. It’s a book about how to treat the consumer with respect; how to develop a tone of voice for a brand; and how to tell the truth about yourself in an entertaining yet commercial way." It’s a book about how to create content in a way that makes a difference.

Thank goodness there’s still a big corner of advertising where brilliant writing, brilliant content, still matters.

claire.beale@haymarket.com      @clairebeale

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