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Tracey Stern

Why Content Is Still King in 2010

10 August 2010, Tracey Stern

Long gone are the days of waiting until 8am for your paper to be delivered in order to hear the news. Or missing a favourite TV programme, because it was only transmitted once, and you ran out of VHS video. Digital advertising revenue in the UK is now as big as traditional TV advertising revenue. At well over £3billion annually (*), and given the fact that commercial TV launched in the 1950’s – this figure is not to be taken lightly.

Everything now is accessible, all the time. In an always-on society, you can find the ridiculous, and the sublime 24 hours a day. You can watch TV on your computer, or play games on your TV. But somewhere along the line, it worries me that the need to be ‘digital’ has provided some with an excuse not to think too hard. A really straight forward idea, which is executed brilliantly, can still work as well today, as it did 50 years ago.

In my time at a media agency, I lost count of the number of times that clients asked for a brilliant ‘viral’ idea. What they wanted, was an idea which perfectly communicated the brand message, in a funny or humorous or charming way, which was sent to the right people via the right channel at the right time. But ‘viral’ marketing was the channel ‘du jour’ and seemingly won lots of awards and kudos, so that’s what they asked for.

It doesn’t matter whether you are promoting a product, a company, or an individual. The process for communication remains as true today as it was for Gibbs toothpaste in 1955 (the first ad to be shown on commercial TV in 1955), but the route to market just offers greater opportunities.

Take Old Spice as a great example of this. For those of us over a certain age, this product probably brings back fond but ironic memories. Faced with a declining audience and stiff competition from a cluttered market, they updated the Old Spice man to create a series of ‘manmercials’. In my non-expert and humble opinion, these are quite brilliant.

The initial ad, created so much talk-ability that it has now been viewed 13 million times on YouTube. But the stroke of genius lies in the response to the ads. Rather than just create a Facebook page, the main character, played by Isaiah Mustafa, filmed a series of answers to questions posed by fans via personalised, hilarious videos which were broadcast online. The brilliance lay not just within the central idea, but having the creativity, vision and knowledge to play with it in a way that encapsulated the brand essence. Time will tell if sales caught the public imagination as much as the advertising did, but it will remain at the top of my ‘work I wish I had done’ list for quite a while.

Digital media has so much to recommend itself. It is interactive, it is direct, it can be cheaper and faster than more established forms of communication. But it is not standalone. It is at its best when understood properly, is fully integrated into all activity or communications, and used in the right way for each specific communication task. Generic rules don’t apply – they need to be carefully thought out and executed with prior knowledge of what the audience wants.

To all those that request a ‘viral campaign’, I urge you to recall the words of Sydney J. Harris, who once said that “the real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers”.

(*) Source : Internet Advertising Bureau August 2010