The tyranny of ‘content’ and the return of creativity after Cannes Lions

The tyranny of ‘content’ and the return of creativity after Cannes Lions

My new column is live at The Drum:

In a first-season episode of the American TV drama Scorpion, the show’s crack team of techno-wizards meets a man who developed a computer program that uses an algorithm to create instant pop music hits.

Such software would be worth millions. After being saved from multiple attempts on his life by greedy music industry executives, the man thinks about his invention while playing Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You by Frankie Valli on a keyboard. He says:

“What I’ve missed the most in all the years since I gave [music] up is the harmony. You see, a machine can only copy – it can’t make it because perfection is in the tiny mistakes. Which makes it human. I was angry when I wrote this program. I didn’t want anything to do with music. But now I think I just don’t want to do anything with bad music. I don’t want to be a fake.”

And then he destroys the computer drive with a hammer.

Here in Tel Aviv, I am a little behind the latest television as our satellite provider catches up. But I thought about this episode in the context of the digital marketing craze of ‘content marketing’ and the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, which was scheduled to begin on June 17 after I filed this column.

‘Content marketing’ is supposed to be the use of marketing collateral that aims to inform (rather than sell directly) and is transmitted over mediums that businesses own (such as company blogs). In 2008, Seth Godin referred to content marketing – very inaccurately – as “the only marketing left”.

But the digital marketing industry took an existing part of marketing communications, gave it a buzzword, and then turned the tactic into a tragedy. (And not the fun Steps type of ‘tragedy’.) Content marketing has become bottom-rung, direct-response advertising by another name.

As I looked at the future Cannes Lions programme and saw themes including “Creativity for Good” and “Data-Driven Creativity,” I could only hope that the marketing world will reach an inflection point after which the tyranny of content will be overthrown.

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