Why content kills creativity

Is there a more soul-less word in the advertising lexicon than ‘content’?  It’s not as annoying as ‘gamification’.  It’s not as ugly as ‘filmic’.  It’s not as blatantly deceitful as ‘brainstorm’ or as unfathomable as ‘tissue session’.  It’s just ‘there’: a word which can mean happy and filling, but which we use in a way that is sad and empty.

Of course, we all know why we’ve alighted up on it. Its very blandness allows it to describe all sorts of creative material, from film to the written word, short-formats to long, old world to new.  And surely this is a good thing, when great ideas need to be able to take all sorts of forms?

Except that I think the word ‘content’ actively hinders the development of great ideas, for two reasons.

Firstly, ‘content’ is just ‘stuff’.  There is no implied need for quality.  Instead the emphasis is invariably on quantity: we are forever being told that we need to churn out huge amounts of this mythical material, to satisfy the imaginary appetites of our equally spurious audience.

Secondly, ‘content’ is also without form. It is shapeless, amorphous, ill-defined.  That’s why we’ve chosen the word, as a handy catch all.  But it’s also the term’s downfall, because people in the real world like a narrative structure, not just a load of information hanging around in the ether.

It is because of these flaws that so many of our marketing efforts are doomed today.  If you set out with the mindset of creating content, you will produce the communications equivalent of bubblewrap, foam padding, and polystyrene balls.  Bland, filler material that serves a certain purpose, but which is invisible to most people as they seek out the things they’re really interested in.

We’ve got to get back to older notions: of telling stories, creating characters, having opinions and sharing ideas.  Yes, I know these phrases have become hackneyed themselves, but reclaiming good concepts makes more sense to me than pursuing bad ones.  Or even sad and empty ones.

  • Paul Keers

    That’s nothing – think of those whose role in life is now “content provider”. Could anything be more soulless?

    Retaining some of the old editorial/publishing job titles retains the quality, even dignity, that role deserves – see http://www.the-cma.com/news/job-titles-in-our-brave-new-world-of-content-1

  • ArdiKolah

    Thought provoking piece Andy and I can’t help agreeing that too much rubbish is packaged as ‘content’ when patently it isn’t. Quality is what all creative effort should be about. Too much stuff as you put it isn’t distinctive, doesn’t add value for the recipient and doesn’t (ultimately) motivate behaviour. Get the magic ‘sauce’ right and it works!

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