You call it advertising, I call it content: A view from a media agency

panelWhy has the term Content roused such fury amongst some in our industry?

At Time Inc’s recent Campaign summit exploring the Future of Content there was quite an argument about the term Content itself.  Some say it is yet another way of complicating matters and ask where is the exact definition.  Others enquire whether there is anything new here – if you have an inspirational advertising idea for the brand and amplify that then what else do you need?  Is  “Content is just embarrassed advertising”? (overheard recently).  Clients just want to grow their brands and sell more product.  Who cares what the techniques are called.

Advertising is essentially a push medium.  Some ads attract such attention that they are shared, but this is not most ads.  My point of view is that we must communicate with a wider set of tools than just advertising alone these days and that there is a range of media techniques required for most brands which are about sharing and dialogue first.

In the great days of entertaining advertising in the last century indeed sometimes a great ad was all you needed.  Then as this century dawned we entered the Age of Dialogue.  Driven by the growth of everyone’s use of the internet and the birth of social, first on pcs and subsequently on smartphones, the fact is that how a brand communicates with their target consumers and what people in general say about the brand is as important as what the brand says about itself in an advert.

I believe that Advertising is too small a word for the business we are in.  That Brand Content covers more of the material of communications than just adverts. An ad is an ad.  A brilliant unpaid tweet on behalf of the brand that goes viral is not strictly speaking an ad, but it is Brand Content and it does communicate the brand idea and deliver against campaign objectives, including driving visits to a website for example.  Just consider the superb and very spontaneous Visit England Tweet when England came out of Euro 2012: “England lose on penalties.  For more about our culture and traditions go to”.

I sat once (briefly) on the IPA’s Value of Advertising Committee.  It is of course not only advertising that drives value for brands.  Owned and earned media also do this, from social to pr to events to native to seo.  I advocated changing the name of the committee to Value of Communications.  I thought in fact that the IPA should consider a name change to IPC (of course this acronym is now available thanks to Time Inc’s own rebrand).  Everyone else on the committee considered it a given that all of the practitioners in the industry understand implicitly that the term Advertising encompasses all forms of Brand Communications (paid, owned and earned).  I don’t believe that this is the case and that the very name of the IPA therefore can be rather excluding of much of what we know is of value to brands.

All Advertising is Brand Content in a certain established, usually paid for, format.  Not all Brand Content is Advertising.

We endeavour to communicate using good Brand Content of course, by which I mean Brand Content that delivers against the client’s objectives.  Good Advertising is one technique by which to deliver those objectives.  Other forms of Brand Content are increasingly gaining accountability and share of mind. Is it too loose a term as critics claim?  Maybe, but I can’t think of a better one at the moment.  If we can come up with a better term it may help to break down some of the silos that can slow progress.



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