Content: now everyone's talking about it, but what does it actually mean?
A view from Arif Durrani

Content: now everyone's talking about it, but what does it actually mean?

There is a reason why Eskimos have 100 different words for snow. Right now, the media industry can learn a lot from this.

Before language purists point out that Inuit actually use lexemes, not words, to help better describe the white stuff – my point still remains. Our language is shaped by our environment and, similarly, the words we use help shape the way we think about our world.

As anthropology studies show, if you have no word for something, it is difficult to really think about it. Likewise, if one word has many meanings, it is no longer sufficient to use it on its own without further description or lexemes – sub-words.

This truism has been top of mind recently as everyone seems keen to talk about "content". Has there ever been a word with the potential to span so much yet convey so little?

The same fumes that have fuelled talk of native advertising have created a heady mix around content: mobile, social and tech. But not all content is born equal. The disparity hit hard at Media360 this month.

The Bafta-winning screenwriter Tony Marchant opened a session on the art of storytelling with hard-hitting footage from his film The Mark Of Cain. The clip he played to demonstrate his provocative "content" featured an intense and graphic battle scene on the streets of Iraq. It shocked us all to our cores.  

'What is undisputed is how, in an age awash with content, the ability to amplify it becomes all-important'

It was impossible not to feel the step change when following sessions referred to the power of "content" in terms of marketing, or posts on Tumblr and Pinterest. Slapping a logo next to content is not enough.

As Frank Rose, the author of The Art Of Immersion, noted: "Content without story is just noise. Content without story and excitement is noise pollution."

If branded content is one of the growth stories of our time, the rise of brand journalism takes it to another level. Forbes' chief product officer Lewis D’Vorkin’s emerging business model (described here) makes for timely and contentious reading.

What is undisputed, and should be of primary concern for media agencies, is how, in an age awash with content, the ability to surface and amplify it becomes all-important.

GQ’s editor, Dylan Jones, who has set his stall around quality content, captured the symbiotic relationship well for professional organisations when he told me: "Fundamentally, we’re in the business of creating a product. Content is king, content is more than anything, but, if you can’t sell it, your content is immaterial; it doesn’t matter."