There is a lot of talk these days about "content", as though content has just been discovered under a rock somewhere, maybe somewhere in deepest Peru. People in ad agencies talk about it as though it were a new form of alcohol, a new kind of oxygen. Content marketing! Native advertising! OMG, sponsored editorial! Puh-lease…
The thing about "content" as opposed to content, is that it is now being discussed as something to be manufactured, like a new car or a self-assembly desk. "Quick, we need some content! Know anyone?" As brands desperately try to circumvent media by talking to their customers directly – how dare you! – they start scrabbling around, throwing money at anyone who can string two sentences together, who knows someone with a digital video camera, who knows someone else who once wrote a dog-food commercial back in the 90s.
"Quick! We need content! Do we know anyone who does this sort of thing?"
"Content" is now being produced by those people who previously weren’t considered good enough to work in either the editorial or commercial sector, whose ideas are usually so prosaic that they make brand managers wonder why they didn’t just do the job themselves. Because "content", or indeed plain old content, is only as good as the people producing it. And often the people charged with producing it just aren’t up to the job. Why should they be? They’ve never done it before.
"Brilliant!" they’ll exclaim. "We’ve got the gig. Now all we need is an idea. Do we know anyone who has ideas?"
The fundamental problem with "content", or indeed any catch-all term that media agencies come up with to try to reboot their businesses, is that it is obsessed with delivery systems.
Every day we are bombarded by a new form of social media, a new app that is going to knock our socks off, a form of digital delivery that is not only going to radically transform our business but also cause us to question why we come to work in the first place. And because the media world is running scared, worried that if it doesn’t embrace everything that’s new and different, then it will appear old and samey, it embraces it. Forgetting, of course, that the medium really isn’t the message. Content is the message, but not the sort of "content" you can buy off the shelf.
Without creativity you may as well just have an uncharged iPhone. Because without creativity you don’t have 'content'. And you’ll never produce 'content' if you don’t have ideas.
Which brings me to creativity. Because without creativity you may as well just have an uncharged iPhone. Because without creativity you don’t have "content". And you’ll never produce "content" if you don’t have ideas.
I remember a cover meeting we had a few years ago at GQ. We had just heard that we had secured a shoot date for a major Hollywood celebrity, one we had been chasing for ages.
It was all very last-minute, and so we had to organise everything in about three days: photographer, stylist, producer, location, clothes, grooming, yada yada yada.
Just as we were nearing the end of our meeting – which was a logistic meeting more than anything else – the art director held up his hands and said: "You know what, this is great. So exciting! All we need now is an idea."
Indeed we did – and my best idea was to fire the art director.
Which is a very long-winded way of saying that "content" should never be thought of as a box to tick. "Content", like all good content, like all good ideas, can be produced only by people who are genuinely creative, and who do content (as opposed to "content") for a living.
Now, I must be on my way, as I have to spend the next hour or so looking for some content. Do you happen to know anyone who has any?