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We Don’t Need More Content Vending Machines That Say They Have A Soul

content connection

If you are going to make an impact, at least be consistent with it.

2017 has been a great year, so far, for brands to resolve social problems in the shape of two to four minute ads, but have absolutely no depth to them. One question to ask from brands who have been causing a stir this year is, ‘are they playing the long game?’


What’s Has Come Crashing Down In The Past Month Or So

April was the watershed month. It all came together in the shape of a balloon filled with water and thrown at a wall, rather than letting it rise higher into the sky.

The beginning of the month was the famous Pepsi advert that highlighted the role of social unrest and we ended the month with Heineken becoming a brand that shared common ground over polar viewpoints.

If you haven’t seen it, ‘world’s apart’ explores finding the similarity between people who are divided by beliefs from sexism to climate change. This is part of Heineken’s ‘Open Your World’ campaign, intended to search and discover the things that unite, rather than divide us.

This week has seen the discomfort of the latest McDonald’s advert that looked at death (it was pulled on Tuesday 16th May). The advert focuses on a boy and his mother talking about his dead father. Charity campaigners have highlighted that this, “exploits childhood bereavement.’

To many, this angle points to exploitation for the gain of a brand. However, if McDonalds are making a longer-term commitment to a painful social issue and working with groups and networks and a role of responsibility then we start to look at the message differently. The response from McDonalds was, “We wanted to highlight the role McDonalds has played in our customer’s everyday lives – both in good and difficult times.” A pretty empty piece of PR spin.


The One Word That Bonds What Happened

The word that bonds McDonalds, Pepsi and Heineken is, ‘campaigns.’

Long-term consistency is when people recognise that Pepsi have been highlighting generational social unrest for years (they still can do it). It is when people recognise that Heineken has been making a stand for tolerance for more than the run up to an award (it can still happen). It is when McDonalds take a role to tackle bereavement and people being open with each other (they still can). When people recognise that this is what a company does, alongside selling drinks and food, then the whole world becomes more believable.

The Pepsi, Heineken and McDonalds examples were not about standing for something meaningful, but making their products the stars of the show. There was no conflict (apart from commentary after the horse had bolted) between society and brand values, they were just ads.

To get to a point of association where brands create value and not just highlight the role their products play, takes real commitment. Does this mean that we are now going to see more businesses playing the ‘sell more products/but we have a soul’ card? Do we really care what a business believes in, as long as we have access and ticks a box that fits a need?

Should the whole approach be to find a way to connect on an emotional level, but shift more product?

What about you? The work that you share is it just to put more stuff out there that will hopefully be the magnet that attracts people to your side to buy, or is it to connect?


What Does This Mean For You?

There is nothing wrong with being upfront about selling products and services. That is what we are here to do, so we can get sunburnt in a place we haven’t been to before. However, you need to represent a business that does have a meaning where you can deliver value, alongside convincing people to buy. This way, when people decide to buy, you are top of mind.

It comes back to this question, is the work, articles, posts, videos, downloads, visuals, stories that you share with the world a vending machine of content or is it there to create higher impact?

Does it invite people to connect, share your stance and a clear alignment with what you do? In a previous article from April (on something to say, not something to sell), I highlighted the need to move away from social channels as just a method of direct selling but a point of difference based on viewpoint. One of your biggest challenges today is to bring someone from the newsfeed, to your place of creation and curation. However, that is where the reward truly is.

When something scales, it is because you do something that is worthwhile. It is not because you found your moment to publish and promote. We all like a stat that is like a bucket becoming full to the brim. Here is a Contently article that puts everything to a zombie apocalypse scale where in just one minute, 400 new videos are shared, 4.1m other people are liking Facebook posts. The only way to cut through is to connect and recognise whom your audience is. You connect when you have something to say that someone else associates with. Have a read of last weeks article that looks at finding your allies.

This whole angle of doing something worthwhile that aligns with your product or service, is something that Colgate are currently standing beside with their Every Drop Counts initiative.

This started with an ad from last years Superbowl.

The one word that they are well and truly standing for is conservation. It is more about a way to encourage behavioural change, rather than selling toothpaste.

Alongside swimmer, Michael Phelps they are asking us all if we will pledge to save water, by turning off our taps when we brush our teeth. This represents a company delivering value, not convincing people to purchase. This approach of inspiring change, has also led a hand to creativity. They have started writing messages on hotel mirrors.

A hotel in Moscow shows hidden messages in bathrooms when mirrors start to steam-up. This means that it will be targeting people who are already using too much water. This sign on the mirror becomes a, ‘wasting water detector.’ The #SaveWaterMirror has been a successful project to date, with the hotel reducing water waste by 15% and via social media has reached 48 million people.

It is all about locking down for the long term based on the meaning you curate for others.

So, what does a Colgate saving water initiative have anything to do with you? It all comes down to aligning a belief with what you do (as a business) that can make an impact. In the case of a toothpaste brand it is water conservation.

This doesn’t mean that you have to find some political, social or ethical cause to attach yourself to, but a way that can complement what you do outside of what you sell, that can make a positive impact.

As a small business example, this is what Michael Grubb has done from Michael Grubb Studio (he is the June 29th, You Are The Media Lunch Club guest). He recognised the amount of wastage within his industry (he owns a lighting design consultancy) and set up an initiative in 2014 to do something about it. He created the Re:Lit project as a way to minimise the wastage of lighting products that normally end up in landfill, but to use for community projects throughout the UK. The issues his company now has is that it has grown to such a scale that it needs more support (click here to have a read of their plight).

Some things to think about when it comes to content being a mechanism to connect, rather than filling space:

  • whatever industry you represent, you can have a responsibility that other people haven’t recognised and where you can own the dialogue


  • you can connect with others far better when you have something to say, not just something to push


  • if there is an area that you believe in, you can become a trusted advisor


  • you can create high impact owned media experiences that can add value to your audience


  • if something is worthwhile it scales (whilst Colgate obviously had budget, the whole initiative is around conservation and being creative with it)


  • companies still throw themselves into creation without necessarily an understanding of who they are looking to connect with


  • communication can be seen as far more important than putting all the effort in content creation


  • to say more, you have to have something to say


  • doing work that matters, feels much better than doing something the way it has always been done (interruption, disruption and repetition)


  • resonance outweighs trying to convince. In the words of Bernadette Jiwa in a Talking Content Marketing interview, “the only way to differentiate ourselves from transactional brands that sells commodities at the cheapest price is to create meaning.”

Lets Round Up

Can you be more than a one-time thing? To do this you need to be ready for long-term consistency.

The reason this matters is you can have a presence at every stage of the audience’s journey. When you do this, you enhance your business/brand. It is better to be prominent with a point of view, than just product promotion. When you educate and have an active role to play, helps position you as more than a company that is selling products and services.

No one ever wanted to be seen as a vending machine that just put stuff out there and turned its back. When you can connect and make an impact with the long haul in mind, it puts you in a place where others haven’t even considered.

If you can find a way to differentiate from the heard and create a compelling idea and be consistently surprising from a core place, no one can come near you.


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