feature brought to you by Time Inc. UK
New technologies, trends and behaviour patterns are changing the very nature of content – and the way we consume it. The future of content will be shaped by big data, by new social media channels and by the shifting balance between commercial and editorial messages across the media.
To explore how the nature of content will change in the future – and its far-reaching implications, Campaign, in association with Time Inc UK, gathered together some of the leading lights from the advertising and media industry, as well as clients and editors.
Campaign’s deputy editor, Maisie McCabe, led the lively debate at the Blue Fin Building, which saw "violent agreement" between the panellists present as they explored the following issues around the future of content.
Editorial vs advertorial
With the lines between advertising, editorial and advertorial blurring, a key question is: does the reader notice the difference?
Diane Kenwood, the editor of Woman’s Weekly, stressed the importance of authenticity in creating editorial and content, because people are overwhelmed with messages. "If you’re honest and upfront with what you’re doing, people are far more inclined to engage," she said. "Trust is the bedrock of everything."
Sir John Hegarty, the founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and The Garage, agreed: "The value of what we’re producing isn’t valued by the people we’re broadcasting to. I see subterfuge and deceit; we’re seeing the result of people deceiving. There will be a huge backlash against deception."
Graeme Adams, the head of media at BT, noted the importance of speaking from a position of authority, adding: "As we move from being a broadband provider to a sports broadcaster, we’ve got a licence and permission to operate in that area."
The future of social media
With the growing importance of social media as a content delivery channel, the question of how to manage this emergent medium is a thorny one. Colin Gottlieb, the chief executive, EMEA, of Omnicom Media Group, noted that with tech companies’ money and start-up mentality driving change, "agility is something that the biggest clients are putting into their briefs".
Sue Unerman, the chief strategy officer at MediaCom UK, explained that social media is a communications system that is fuelled by advertising and content, while tech companies concentrate on user experience: "They don’t care about tradition or hierarchies."
Kev McFadyen, the head of marcoms strategy and planning at O2, highlighted social media’s unique ability "to tell a story in an engaging way; to deliver optimal targeting through custom audiences and to convert." He added: "If you overlap those elements of the Venn diagram, there’s a bullseye in the middle – but you have to recognise that different channels can and should perform different roles."
On both Facebook and Google’s introduction of custom audience buys, Gottlieb said: "Which social media channel you use is vitally important –because most creative agencies simply don’t know how to work with them."
Social media stars
With the relationship between brands and YouTube stars coming under scrutiny, brands must look closely at how to use social media personalities to get their message across responsibly.
Mark Frith, the editor-in-chief of Now and Look, was opposed to working with these stars: "We just wouldn’t do it. They’re not celebrities; they’re proponents for selling stuff. It’s that whole notion of buying someone’s audience."
Adams noted that it’s key to find "authentic and credible" people and that BT’s approach of borrowing credentials from sportspeople has delivered results.
Sam Finlay, the managing director of advertising at Time Inc UK, added that its brands would be careful about buying in existing stars as it would erode trust. "Our brands can build their own social stars," he said.
Content and Big Data
Data is proliferating, from wearables to weather data to hyper-local social sharing. Advertisers, brands and media owners are looking to harness the power of data to create compelling, targeted content.
The discussion was divided over the value of targeting content, with Hegarty noting that a brand is made as much by the people who are aware of it as
those who buy it. He said: "Increasing targeting forgets half of that equation and so it doesn’t build value round the brand."
Gottlieb spoke up for the power of targeted advertising, saying: "Sky is a hair’s breadth from addressable TV, where ads are served to you based on what you’re watching."
Dave Trott, the author and creative director, pointed to the danger of "thinking that the data and statistics and targeting will do the job for you; you don’t need brains, quality or creativity".
Kenwood suggested that data is useless unless you understand your audience – which gives you the tools to "apply the data to the audience you want to communicate to". Frith, meanwhile, emphasised that while algorithms may tell you about a consumer’s history, "people like being surprised; people like new stuff".