Blog: Content - The territorial dispute du jour

Jonathan Terry is head of JWT Live.
Jonathan Terry is head of JWT Live.

Content is the territorial dispute du jour, which every agency is claiming to do brilliantly, says Jonathan Terry, head of JWT Live.

Content is, of course, a useless word. It’s the ultimate non-descriptor. It’s become the C-word of advertising: ubiquitous and provocative.

Its uselessness within the advertising vernacular was confirmed, upon my discovery that the antonym of content is, in fact, style.

Style describes how something is made; its form, its material, its weft and its weave.  Content tells us that something (generally another noun), has something in it. For example chicken has high protein content. Content tells you nothing about the "content" rather that it contains… something. A book has a table of contents. You can empty the contents of your suitcase.

As I pondered – spilling the contents of my cup in the process – I started to wonder what was inside this content we’re all competing to make.

Reports around the world are showing that people are craving real experiences more and more in the digital age. Real experiences are what people engage with and share online, they provide most of the content for social media.

Case and point: In the top ten most watched (and talked about) shows of 2014, seven out ten programmes were reality based. Great British Bake Off in first place, Uruguay vs England in second, Britain’s Got Talent in fourth, Germany vs Argentina, I’m a Celebrity, Strictly Come Dancing and Call the Midwife.

What makes most of these shows real is their temporal nature: watching the Superbowl on catch up isn’t the same. And, TV programmers have learned from this by creating rounds across contests: The Big Decision. Audiences are lured in to see the drama unfold. Who will make the cut and why? Event-based programming is on the rise.

Some of the other highest rated shows over the year include: 24 hours in A and E, Gogglebox, Top Gear, Masterchef. While not event-based, these shows present real people in real situations, real human drama and it is as enthralling as fiction.

Authenticity is becoming the new TV battleground, as broadcasters and digital publishers (Vice in particular) battle to tell real stories, in real ways that millennials want to hear.

Brands and agencies have also triumphed, some of the best advertising "content" ideas of recent years have a strong suit in real. Red Bull sent a man to jump from the edge of space. Dove enabled real women to question what real beauty meant, with Sketches. Volvo’s Live Test Series has become the paradigm for content strategists the world over.

Here at J Walter Thompson London, we created the Canon Come and See campaign, highlighting real stories around the world, waiting to be discovered. We created a life-changing campaign for Kenco called Coffee vs Gangs. The scheme gave young Hondurans a route out of the spiral into gang life by giving them the opportunity to become coffee farmers. For Shell we helped transform the lives of thousands of people through the renovation of a derelict space into a first-of-its-kind kinetic football floodlit pitch, with floodlights powered by footsteps.

All of these campaigns, and many more, created stories that lend themselves to longer form films; three minutes or more. Using reality within content, is one of the ways agencies and brands can create films that viewers will watch until the end.

The next time you start talking about a bunch of content, consider keeping it real. 

Jonathan Terry is head of JWT Live, J Walter Thompson's in-house experiential and event business.

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