Part I: The Ad Infinitum Appetite in the Content Cold War
As a culture I believe we are indulgently dependent on content. Content is king, I know - what an obvious cliche that has become in marketing. If the statement that “content is king” is news then perhaps we can interest you in another crying Jordan meme. Of course content is chiefly important in marketing (always has been), but there is an evolution going on and an expansion of content that is changing the game. Content isn't king. Content is a global Dictator who commands 10,000 armies commanded by 1,000 Generals and a few billion soldiers. Content like RISK, 'a game of global domination'.
Content is growing across expanding channels like an arms race. We’re being marketed content in the bathroom, while laying in bed, from outer space (NASA is in the social media content game). Creativity abounds to fuel the content wars like survival, necessity, and ingenuity fuel weapon innovations in wartime. Promotion is varied and targeted across all channels and devices. It’s a cold war, an arms race for the attention and investment of the consumer B2A (B2B, B2C, B2 All of it). Whoever can build the most engaging content around their products wins. The sheer volume is Cold War staggering and it isn’t just in marketing/advertising. If you’re still reading, you’re on a battlefield, a soldier in the war. Let’s go deeper.
277,000 tweets every minute for 398,880,000 tweets every single day. (Source: JeffBullas.com)
Marketing mirrors culture and culture ignited the Content Wars. It may have started around 1984 (the commercial) when Apple took its first steps on its way toward reinventing product as an event with all the fan fare of a Super Bowl.
Content has become more than just a new product. It is now THE product. I couldn’t say when it happened entirely, perhaps when channels expanded like a big bang. Advertising has always created content to promote and brand the product, but never before has the volume of product collateral outweighed the product itself. In any landmark cultural shift, it isn’t the first one to do anything which signals a move. It’s the flood across the field when you know your world has changed and that is now. We are now marketing the new product introduction event, case study, infographic, brochure, TV ad, meme, gif, inspirational picture and quote, etc as the product itself. The amount of content we are developing to market a product across a staggering amount of channels is outweighing the development of the product itself. We’re promoting the content to promote the product. The cart is now pulling the horse. The content around the product is often more important in terms of revenue than the original product now. Some may say it always was this way. I would say product marketing isn’t marketing the product. A product marketer today is creating the product.
4.75 billion pieces of content shared daily on Facebook. (Source: Zephoria.com)
Marketing has always been partially predicated on promotion, but now we are being inundated at a staggering volume as the channels, devices have exploded in a “Channel Big Bang”. I can tell you when that happened, June 29th, 2007 when the iPhone was originally released. Channels began to grow exponentially on that day and went into hyper-speed when the app store opened. Facebook would follow creating a true mobile platform and Facebook would grow to much more than just a platform for keeping up with friends. It would become a hub for social interaction and a marketing channel of its own. Twitter would spring up. The iPad would add another device type. Now the connected digital watch. Look at how many different channels you have to size and design your logo for. How many profile pictures do you have for how many different digital products and online communities. And with each new channel, the content war stakes are raised.
Content is getting more powerful. It’s the meat, the bones, the sizzle, the best part saved for last, and the cherry on top. Content used to be appetizer for the salesman, but now content can take you all the way to dessert. Content is now the weeks of commercials, promotions, interviews, discussions, personal stories, social media reactions, graphics, memes, gifs, crying Jordan's, mashups, mashups of mashups, memes, memes of memes, trump slogans, etc... leading up to the two hour super bowl. Ads at the Super Bowl used to be a big deal. Now we have two weeks of a show leading up to the event. Which is bigger the Super Bowl or the surrounding content games?
Content is the merchandise sold around Kobe Bryant’s retirement. Did we really need a $30k hat commemorating his retirement? Jordan didn’t. We do.
The marketing that went into an athlete retirement tour is staggering. There had to be thousands of videos, a new Kobe shoe design released every week, a farewell by every other athlete past and present, heads of state were probably interviewed about Kobe’s retirement, Obama was. I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin filmed a little farewell video and posted it on social media riding a horse holding a rifle with a bayonet wrapped in a purple and gold #24 Laker jersey. We don’t want an announcement on a podium and a commercial or two, a few poignant articles in print, some commemorative magazines, and some videos to commemorate the great highlights of an illustrious career. No, we now need a whole year road trip of sellout games and all the promotion we can handle. It isn’t the colossal ego of an elite athlete that drives this machine. It’s the war. It’s the content war that created this battlefield. Kobe will not be coming back from retirement like Michael Jordan did for one simple reason. He is too exhausted. There is no way he would ever want to go through this again. Content today is as much Steph Curry hitting the game winner as it is the social media explosion on Twitter, the instantaneously created gifs, the automatic meme posts within seconds, the highlights on ESPN, the Facebook post from the Golden State Warriors official page, more highlights on Instagram, ad infinitum. And it all happens almost before that shot falls from the net onto the wood floor.
The war doesn’t just rage in sports or entertainment. It has taken over politics. Politics have taken the discussion of the country’s future and “content-ized” it into 10+ debates by a narrowing field before you even get to a party nomination. FOX news dominates cable ratings with the shock and awe of "breaking news" on all your devices, everywhere you go. Politics has become so much of a show that candidates are apparently running successful campaigns when all they originally sought out to be a part of the show for a short time to capitalize on the content war with some free advertising. Every news outlet scrambles to hold the best debates and market them with a full range of content across all channels and the candidates don’t pay a dime for the publicity. It’s so much free content that the cost of running is worth the promotion.
204,000,000 emails sent every minute of the day. (Source: JeffBullas.com)
Blockbuster movies have moved from being of seasonal interest, maybe one sequel to decade long marketing campaigns of world’s built around not one character or brand but dozens planned for decades. Branded emails have even crept their way into feature films, Lex Luthor. Star Wars, Marvel each have multiple phases planned spanning decades of successful movies, and Marvel is on their 13th movie since 2008.
They release the title of each movie at an event, the cast in a deliberate social media campaign across multiple channels. Actors are announced, directors detailed, multiple trailers dropped on talk shows and all of the campaigns that go with it from social media to TV, podcasts, ad infinitum. Upgrade plans on iPhones, software updates on cars, new movies built on your favorite childhood universe, the re-make of the movie you only kind of liked in the 90’s and then a remake of that remake telling the same origin story. It’s war and the battlefield is content and it is everywhere. However you identify yourself, there is a content war being waged over your interest.
Wars are nearly always won by the most technologically advanced. Technology has moved our culture from being a consumer culture to now being a promotion culture. The best advertisers out there are your fans, your community, your influencers. The content draft is where the content wars have exploded. You've been drafted. Welcome to the army of your favorite brand!
Content piles up around your favorite branded properties as factories pump out content. Join a group on Facebook about your favorite whatever and watch people create promotional materials on their own. Memes are the best fan made content around as they pop into channels and instantly increase engagement.
Content has become so valuable to us and how we identify ourselves, we are always looking for more. The Brand Ambassador is you. We’re now willingly joining the content army in droves. Facebook has launched Facebook Live, another promotion channel. Snapchat is being co-opted from a social way to communicate with friends to bona fide business promotion channel. A few years ago GoPro co-opted the video camera to let you create your own commercial for their product. Instagram became a promotion channel of its own for sharing the things we love to do, the lifestyle. Sharing communities are in full swing and they are all becoming promotion channels with specific tools, tips, & tricks. User based communities are creating armies of advertisers creating content for them. Drive for Uber. Turn your house into a hotel when you’re on your own vacation. Technology is driving content mixed with community in such a way that society is being co-opted onto the marketing team. This will grow and will be the next battlefield of content. Next time you’re at a movie theatre, make sure you snap a photo with the cutouts of the summer blockbuster on display and post it on Instagram.
Welcome to the war.