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Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Every year, depending on what "year of" it is; mobile, social, data, whatever, some dolt exclaims that EVERYTHING is, in fact, mobile, social, data, whatever… Last year it was the turn of content, and the false assumption that everything is, in fact, content has spread like a virus through ad agencies and marketing departments as people try to justify their every ad and action as “content".

So, what is and isn’t content? How do we define it? What’s the yardstick, the rulebook, the line in the sand? It’s pretty simple really and was made even more so by my friend, sometime client and colleague Miguel Bernas who said on a panel recently, “Content is what people consume voluntarily, not what is forced upon them.” Be honest, would anyone voluntarily consume your content?

To make content your customers actually want to consume you have to start not with your brand or your product but with them. Their reading, listening and viewing habits. Then, instead of interrupting their favourite blog, podcast or TV show with your ads, which will annoy the hell out of them, consider creating something of that same quality that they would choose to consume.

Let me give you an example. We are currently living through a golden age of television kickstarted by HBO’s Sopranos in 1999, which lay the foundations for shows like Sex & The City, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and even Game of Thrones to come along. Just this last week I have binged on Mindhunter and Stranger Things 2. These shows are global phenomena that audiences, in their millions, sit down to enjoy not for an hour but for two, three and four hour binges. Wouldn’t you like to get that kind of attention for your brand? You can, but you need to think like a commissioner not a marketer and you need to take more risks.

The line-up of shows above at first seems random but there are in fact common themes that run through nearly all of them; sex and violence. Sex and violence are basic human impulses driven by the id and are both the cause and effect of drama, and drama is what keeps audiences glued to the screen.

So much of the content I see from brands is bland, the visual equivalent of a beige carpet or digestive biscuit, it’s all filler no killer! I want to see a brand make R-rated content that audiences are clamouring to see, share and discuss. Our customers are adults, they can handle it and those that can’t? Well maybe they’re not our customer. Either way, the persistent rumour that consumers have the attention span of goldfish is provably false (proof), it’s an excuse for brands whose content is being ignored - blame the idiot consumer! But consumer attention spans have never been longer, you’ve just got to give them something that really keeps them on the edge of their seat. That doesn’t mean a 90” video about how your company/product/service was already great, then you did something, and it got greater. It means inventing characters, storylines and plot twists that will enthral and if you want to do that you’re going to need to work with real screenwriters, producers and directors. In fact, why not drop the Screenwriters Association of Singapore a line, they represent a group of the most talented writers on the island who’d bite your hand off for the chance to write something truly thrilling.

R-rated is not right for every brand but drama is. Drama comes from tension and conflict, which brands traditionally shy away from. My advice is, don’t. Drama is the glue that will bind you and your audience together and who wouldn't want that for their brand?

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