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The Essence of Content

  |  April 18, 2008   |  Comments

With online ads getting so robust, how does one decide what goes into them?

Way back in advertising's Stone Age, I did a lot of what everyone did: inferior, uninteresting work. The money wasn't a problem, but after you've created a sea of ads, brochures, newsletters, you name it, it got pretty hum-drum. The upside was you learned a lot.

Let's not forget putting all the layouts on mechanical boards and setting spot color and doing mathematics to get the typesetting right. I think that low-voltage twitch in my lower back is the remnant stress from many long nights of specifying eight columns of multifont typesetting.

Quaint and crafty as that sounds, it was a lot of work to assemble even the most rudimentary print material. That's all in the past, but some of the problems we had back then haven't entirely disappeared.

One of the biggest problems was the "gift certificate principle" that would torpedo most projects I worked on in the wee hours of the night. This came from many a client who believed two things: printing was expensive, so you had to put as much as possible on every square inch of the brochure or you'd waste money, and people would actually read something conceived under that premise.

Both views were, and remain, totally wrong.

Online has the same problems. Just because you can put copy or images on the Web doesn't mean they're useful or meaningful to the user. Apart from the great sea of personal expression out there, the worst offender is online advertising. Yes, we may all have been culprits in this kind of content crime.

I went through a lot of realizations about what's good to put into a banner and what isn't, Here are the categories:

  • Mind food: The essential communication that has meaning and is applicable to users and their time and experience with the brand or offer. Something compelling them to take action or have a positive impression.

  • Mind filler: Something that's unnecessary and unworthy of reading and has no direct action or benefit tied to the communication. Something to pass the time with while waiting for other things.

  • Mind fodder: A communication that has relevance to the primary communication but has a latent meaning or action tied to the advertisement. Something to think or act upon later.

It's probably not hard to know what these things are in terms of marketing communication. Yet we still commit same type of heinous crimes against the user experience that we did back before the Internet.

The rate of content creation is intensely rapid, and that's a cost in its consumption. When there's more of anything, cost and quality can suffer.

Think again about how attention spans have accelerated, and you'll get a picture of why it's even more important to make sure you get your message in the food category, not the filler.

Remember that filler is for hot dogs, and we know where you end up when consuming too many of those!

Content consumption has become more selective and more random. As our global interactive village becomes more crowded, we must take the time to see things as they are, from the user's point of view, not from the marketer's.

To those who see new ad technology as a panacea for marketing goals, online ads can be a veritable mill wheel of the collective marketing experience. To the wise, they're more like a shopkeeper selling the products the mill produces. A good experience garners repeat visits.

Michael is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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