Lets be absolutely honest here. Some of the best advertising in the world counts as great content doesn’t it? Its consumed, shared, discussed, blogged about, liked, tweeted, pinned and everything else.

So why is advertising still considered such an evil?

Why is the entire social media industry afraid to ‘sell’ to its communities? Because people don’t like ads right? They actively avoid them at every turn.

So ‘interrupting’ your content, the content that your target market has turned up to consume, with a common or garden sales message is simply not the done thing.

Lets face it, advertising is a dirty word.

Which is strange really. Have a look at this video for the car manufacturer Volkswagen

Awesome isn’t it? And one that’s been shared and liked and discussed as much as any other bit of authentic content you could lay your hands on!

Or what about this, from a few years back?

What a fantastic advert! And can you remember the amount of buzz it created at the time?

it’s not just TV and cinema that does such a great job, I did a very popular post on the most inappropriate ads of all time, all of which are from old news papers. While they would never appear today, once again they seem to tick every single box I am aware of and meet the criteria of great content.

Radio has had its moments too – I love this ad, it’s so funny!

It’s not the full version, so it misses the joke. It’s for a car with a free sat nav, complete with the warning to ‘be careful’, as you may arrive ‘too early’! Once again, top quality content, as well as fabulous advertising!

So why all the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth when it comes to interrupting all our lovely content with ads? SImple – because 99% of ads are crap.

No one wants to ‘consume’ them, because they have little value. Simple.

But hang on, there’s a ton of ‘content’ online that’s equally crappy, that content gets away with some kind of consideration because it’s in some way more authentic than advertising.

Poorly shot video with little or no artistic merit gets pumped out of people’s personal blogs. Uninteresting podcasts with no point, purpose or editing, some over an hour in duration, that can surely only be of interest to the person that’s recorded them, pass for ‘art’. Or at the very least they attain some degree of credibility.

Is this simply on the basis that some one has created it? Someone has sweated over its design and inception to the point that the creation of it surpasses its intrinsic value?

What about the ads on display here? They are generally accepted to be the work of some level of genius! Funny, compelling, down right interesting. Yet somehow relegated to a lesser level of credibility than a 1000 words churned out by some self-proclaimed social media guru.

A ‘guru’ unable to generate any kind of significant audience on their own merits, despite the advantages afforded to them of an entirely free, and world-wide publishing eco system, complete with world-wide promotional opportunities.

An eco system that arguably is a more fundamental step forward than the original printing press was 500 / 600 odd years ago.

Certainly some would argue that the ability to publish on the world-wide web in the written form, audio or video, as easily as we can today, is as fundamental a break through, and I for one agree.

Unfortunately, it’s also led to a plethora of cat videos, mommy bloggers, get rich quick schemes and the general witterings of a class of content producers that absolutely no one is interested in at all.

Of course, there are some amazing blogs too – some of which I’ve taken the time to recommend in this post, and in this one too. And my admiration for bloggers like Mark Schaefer and Gini Dietrich and the ever dependable Seth Godin are a matter of record.

And it’s also the case that there is a whole ton of rotten advertising too. I think the vast majority of it – that’s the trouble.

But why does non advertising content get away with the squeaky clean reputation? I would be willing to speculate that the amount of great advertising ever produced outweighs the amount of great blogging content ever produced? What do you think?

But anyway, aside from that, why isn’t it the case that great ads aren’t accepted as great content?

It is after all, sometimes the case. The Superbowl commercial breaks for instance are eagerly awaited appointments to view along side the most popular of sit coms.

Seth Godin wrote early on in the evolution of what we currently regard as social media marketing, and whats most recently been called ‘content’ marketing, that people don’t want sales messages rammed down their throats any more. The permission economy relies on businesses forming genuine and authentic relationships with their clients in order to promote a mutually beneficial commercial relationship.

And lots of people jumped on! Why not? It’s a commendable aim.

But is any one actually managing to deliver this? There are a few notable exceptions maybe, but who actually is managing to make any significant profit as a commercial business through content marketing? What online paragon of a new way of working has managed to replace the old interruption / advertising models of generating cash?

Facebook don’t. They sell ads, and their founder was recently reported to have said that they needed to get better at it too. Twitter only seem to make money when they ask for investment – do they make anything they can sell?

I read that even Amazon have a tiny profit margin of around 2%!

Meanwhile, traditional media like TV and Newspaper still take far and away the majority share of advertising money.

Yes, I know you think they are dead or dying, but that’s a little exaggerated  Even poor old press, in the UK, still accounts for around 30% of all ad spend. Trust me, that’s a lot of cash!

Add to this that I read every day that marketers are increasingly concerned about lack of genuine real cash money ROI for their social media marketing.

Some are even starting to consider that the real value of this stuff is in internal collaboration and customer service. Which is fine, and I wouldn’t argue with that either.

All of which takes us back to the humble advert. They been around for a long long time, and the good ones at least, don’t seem to be ready to go away just yet.

And I think they deserve their place as genuine and authentic content too, as much sa any other type of engaging interesting and compelling content does anyway!

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18 thoughts on “Why Isn’t Advertising Content Marketing Too?

  1. Great article Tony. I raise my hand and say yes, an awful lot of ads I send into production are a crap, watered down version of my concept. For a multitude of reasons. I may get tired of pushing my point with the client, sigh and give them what they want. I may have to concede to losing content because regulating bodies need me to ad X Y or Z and Ive got a time constraint to consider – or they may flatly refuse my execution of it. Its incredibly frustrating, particularly when a client dismisses something that I think could be a stand out commercial, purely on budget or fear of running something different. The thing I aim for, given that I am dealing with relatively small businesses (not Guinness or Coca Cola for example) is making sure whatever the end product, its going to work for them. After that, I operate my three strikes rule. Tell them 3 times not to run this, it wont give you ROI …. if they insist after that, shrug, take their money and prepare my told you so dance…….

  2. Hi Tony, great article. I admit I have not in the past paid enough attention to the quality of our ads and then decided they were a waste of time. I give far more time to blogging, Twitter and Facebook than I ever gave to the content of the ads. I get a lot of interaction from Social Media activity – but is it leading to sales? Hmm, not sure.

    1. Thats very much what I am hearing Huw. Mind you, its also fair to say things are tough these days, tougher than for a long time.
      Still its completely imperative that we consider our messaging far more rigorously than the media
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. What a refreshing view! Once upon a time according to research once regularly carried out by the Newspaper Society Classified Advertising categories regularly featured in the top 10 reasons why people bought their local newspaper, People look for news and information and in that respect the advertising content (print or digital) can be as important to the reader as the editorial (editors always loved me saying this!!) as long as it ‘speaks to them’ by name’ and includes the information they need presented in a persuasive way which helps them reach their decision to ‘buy’
    An old adage but ‘arguably’ is still true “The purpose of an ad is to attract and hold the favourable attention of the maximum economic number of the right kind of prospect whilst a selling story is delivered and a favourable action is induced. GOOD COPY is The transference of an idea from one person to another with enthusiasm and excitement in a way which makes the reader act favourably in favour of purchase (Good training sticks!)

      1. You can take the ‘girl’ out of Advertising sales……………………………………Thank you Tony (:-)

  4. Nice article Tony, I couldn’t agree more, but isn’t content marketing just another form of advertising rather than the other way round? Or just another web enabled promotional tool to add to the communications mix to which advertising, PR, direct mail and personal selling etc belong. Or should it just be regarded as self authored PR? unless you pay your PR agency to do it for you, which makes sense if you have one. As you say, it’s all content in one form or another at the end of the day.

    One thing is for sure though, there is a hell-of-a-lot of poor content being slung out there and because this content is presented through a new, supposedly more authentic medium, called blogs, that are regarded as being written by experts, a lot of people with little knowledge on the topics are buying in. It’s kinda like when TV advertising first started and the population used to believe everything that was broadcast to them on the adverts, such as smoking is good for you!

    As time goes by and the public catch on to this, I would like to think that the authentic content providers offering genuine value to their communities will shine through and those just out to make a quick buck will be highlighted for what they are. Hopefully the internet will provide a superfast highway to this realisation. What do you think?

    1. Hi Gareth! Wow, this post is getting a lot of very good comment!
      I wouldn’t argue the semantics to be honest. In my experience, pretty much everyone is right, if you listen long enough 🙂
      One thing I am sure of is the ultimate democracy that is the internet.
      I agree, as soon as the gloss or novelty of online content (same as old type content but with a shiny new presentation style!) wears off, we will all very much vote with our feet.
      I sense the behaviour in myself. Where as I might at one time consume all sorts of marketing blogs from all over, I am now very precious about my time.
      If it hasn’t hit me in a few sentences, at best, I’ll skim the rest – at worst, move onto the next thing
      Choice will power quality in this sense I think
      Thanks for joining in 🙂

  5. Hi Guys, I agree there is a lot of trash out there on the web but up until recently mass produced poor content actually worked. Paying some Indian guy $20 to write up tons of meaningless content with chosen key terms so huge differences in search engine ranking.

    Now with the added Penguin updates by Google good, relevant and remarkable content is becoming more and more important. Bad content doesn’t have a place in any campaign anymore and good riddance. Using their mystical algorithm Google actually democratically rewards content that is actually read and spread by real people.

    I agree with Gareth that content marketing is just another form of traditional advertising but the difference today is how we harness this content and use social media and other forms of technology to spread the content and to measure its effectiveness.

    Digital marketing agencies are seeing a bit of a shake up recently, over the past few years ROI was found in technology and content quantity. Today I think we can be excited to know that marketing agencies will be investing more and more into creative and authentic permission based content because it’s what we want to consume and it’s going to actually make a commercial difference.

    1. That’s the trick though isn’t it 🙂
      Producing great content, and I mean truly great content, not good or even competent content, is really hard
      It’s not something you can just strategise for and expect to happen
      It’s a really important question for me: can agency / marketers produce content of sufficient quality to stand out and cut through?
      Not sure…

  6. Well, that is a key question there Tone and also should this job be up to agencies..? For small businesses serving their niche shouldn’t they be the experts, shouldn’t they know what their market wants to hear about? Is it right for them to pass over their authentic identity to a commercial beast who have other commitments. In effect isn’t blogging just speaking with your customers/community?

    For smaller businesses I think it’s important to use blogging as an opportunity to personally connect with their community. They may need someone to help them develop their storytelling, brush up on their grammer, produce graphics and video or help with concepts for the more flashy stuff but that aside producing content is just a matter of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, right?

    I love reading a blog and seeing the author grow into themselves, find their voice and develop. This is something i’m trying to work at myself and i’m sure there will be plenty of mistakes made along the way. But in essence isn’t that what social media and blogging are all about – adding an authentic personality to your organisation/brand, isn’t this what makes it engaging and real..? A friend of mine refers to the use of social media for business as the “humanisation of your brand”.

    And for larger organisations, they have a pool of potential great content creators. I would imagine that encouraging staff to participate in this endeavour would be a excellent way to develop skills and help people shine.

    In any case producing your own content must be an awesome learning experience and I think as long as it comes across as genuine and valuable does it really have to be great? I suppose what’s great to a keen fly-fisher is different to what a hardcore raver would find compelling content.

    1. Gareth, that comment is a blog post in itself! Seriously 🙂
      You make some great points.
      In my new job at the newspaper I am having the best time focussing myself and anyone else that will listen on the content
      But for us, professional content producers, the focus is on excellence
      My new favourite quote “in the pursuit of perfection we may stumble over excellence!”
      It’s the same journey I think, just at various ends of the same spectrum
      Thanks again for the input

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