Excellence in a Time of Plenty

It’s not difficult to feel a little overwhelmed when you’re standing knee deep in the pool of content that has found its way onto our screens these days.

The amount of messaging, films, songs and images that comes hurtling into our lives like a pitchfork mob has affected the way we engage with advertising in many different ways. During the last decade alone, we have borne witness to the ways in which the audience itself has changed. We’ve agreed that we should engage more, manufacture a sense of authenticity in our messages, and try, if nothing else, to build a conversation so that we stand a chance at the holy grail –– creating an active community.

But as TVCs become short films and the content marketing parade marches on, we have to face an ineffable truth about what we create: if it’s not excellent, it’s background noise.

Sadly, excellence can cost.

The digital revolution impacted creative industries like the fall of the Berlin Wall; it brought with it democracy. Suddenly, disciplines like filmmaking were no longer a mysterious alchemy but a hobby for a generation of ten year olds with iMovie and a smartphone. At the centre of it all stood YouTube, like an all-knowing wizard eagerly handing out Photoshop tutorials, and happily accepting almost anything for free global exhibition.

As of August 2015, YouTube had over a billion viewers, a million channels and a catalogue of videos spanning light years –– now regarded as the accurate measurement for the amount of content on YouTube.

The point is that digital platforms were initially regarded as the most cost-effective means of engaging with audiences, and in many ways it still is. The absence of backbreaking numbers around buying media space means that you can upload a video to your brand’s YouTube channel for free. Here, it can vegetate innocuously, amongst the other seven light years of content.

For some time now, creating content for digital spaces has had clients excitedly rubbing their hands together in anticipation of low production budgets and rushed creative concepts.

Now, in the milieu of digital exhibition platforms, has digital content reached a point where size matters? Those working in the industry will have known this for some time now, but still there exists a disconnect in thinking between creating a piece of advertising content for a digital platform versus content for traditional Above-the-line platforms.

For some bizarre reason, many brands seem to be of the opinion that a digital exhibition platform welcomes work that is inferior in quality – as if those watching a piece of advertising on television have a greater and more discerning taste for well-crafted narratives and solid production value.

Yet, is there an audience more fickle or vocal than that of online viewers?

The value of placing two minutes of video footage online may be better than ever in terms of media buy, but not in terms of your audience’s patience.

What counts now more than ever is the sign, not signifier.

It is the quality of the message, and not simply the intention. Waste your audience’s time and you may never win them back. This is perhaps the greatest cost of a digital content strategy overly concerned with quantity over quality. Conversely, give the audience what they want, and you’ll have turned your brand into a creator of popular culture.

A great example of this is the Gatorade ‘Replay’ event.

It has been almost 5 years since David Dworsky and Victor Kohler released their beloved documentary, Press Pause Play. And, as the film famously posited, the digital revolution has certainly unleashed creative talent from around the world, offering us all unlimited opportunities to create content for ourselves and professionally for brands. This emancipation of creative ability has, of course, flooded every conceivable messaging platform.

In retrospect, the digital landscape is not a pool of content at all. It is a murky swamp filled with quicksand. As we drift ever deeper we can only but hope that a branch drops down from a tree to help us out.

Yet, as we stand here in the aftermath of this digital revolution rejoicing that we can all create and share, something has become abundantly clear. The value of a meaningful strategy, a truly well conceived idea and a beautifully relevant execution has never been more important. Many marketers may choose a data-centric approach to find sure-fire hits, others may rely on daring gut-feel creative.

However you look at it, you have to agree that the simple conclusion is that great work counts now more than ever. As brands evolve into publishing houses, lets hope that the old adage of empty vessels making the most noise doesn’t ring true.

Amr Singh is the Chief Creative Officer of The Fort.