There was a time when advertising and editorial were uneasy bedfellows. Timid product placement enquiries from under pressure ad sales people would usually be met with a stern rebuff from an editor.
And rightfully so. These ham-fisted attempts to shoehorn brands into stories were a fast-track to a media operation losing credibility and authority.
London’s Social Media Week was an object lesson in just how far we’ve come from those days of separating church (editorial) and state (advertising).
Branded content featured prominently in a number of talks, with presenters such as OgilvyOne’s Christine de Leon pointing out that brilliant content ideas are nothing without strategy.
“The most exciting and successful business propositions are ones that cross-pollinate creativity and strategy,” she said. “One is not somehow mightier than the other. Analytics without context is just an endless set of equations. Concepts and execution without reason are ideas that don’t have any real currency.”
This collaborative approach was echoed by Grace Sobey – Global Media Manager for Unilever – in a panel discussion dubbed The Content Marketing Mashup. Describing her multi-agency ‘war room’ approach to content generation, she explained how this sort of session can make for some brilliant work.
“We call it a command centre, bringing in teams from, say, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and some of our agencies to work intensively on a project for a two week period. This kind of team dynamic has worked very well for us in the past.”
However, David Levin, Creative Director of That Lot, sounded a note of caution on this approach, citing a time when he worked with a “super-large” team who were agonising over the writing of a single tweet.
“By the time they’d decided whether to use a full stop or an exclamation mark at the end, the moment has passed,” he said.
Social Media Week also saw a strong presentation by Will Hayward, Chief Commercial Officer at Dazed. Style and fashion mavens will be familiar with its print and digital offerings and Dazed’s spirit of self-expression and experimentation is something Hayward feels that we should all keep in mind when creating content.
“That word (content) does a huge disservice to editors and advertisers though,” he says. “It’s an insult to our industry – we should raise our ambitions to create something more meaningful than a non-stop flow of clickbait.”
He highlighted several examples of this, from UK grime artists using Snapchat to connect with their fans, to photographer Richard Prince exhibiting Instagram images (complete with comments) at London’s Gagosian gallery and artist Molly Soda – “her Instagram feed is like an artwork in itself” – making a name for herself through her sharp-witted Twitter feeds and brightly coloured Tumblrs.
Encouraging the room to “do something special” when it comes to content, he left his audience with the amusing, but pertinent, observation that “bad content marketing is the new banner ad.”
For me, the main takeout from the week was clear, and it’s something my team and I already strive for. Quite simply, doing fewer things better while still being alert to any responsive content opportunities that may arise. Also that today’s audiences are receptive to branded content – they don’t see it as being hoodwinked – provided what we’re giving them is good, relevant and touches on their passion points.
Inspiring, fast-paced and slickly run, this year’s Social Media Week London proved to be perfect for those in the business of telling great stories.