Content Is Not King

I am not looking to be provocative but I am sick to death of “Content is King” accepted as fact. I beg to differ; I believe that the Audience is King. So much so, that people will bring their content to your audience for a share of the money your audience is worth.

When we buy ads on a particular type of content, we do so to find an audience we have decided (through research or less scientific means) we wish to target. Content is a means to an end, helping us find audiences to market to.

Although social media has certainly made this relationship between content and audience clearer, on the Internet this has long been the case. We have had webmail and other “applications” on the web virtually forever. They are not content, but they have audiences and people have paid to advertise on them since the beginning of web marketing.

You have Facebook (and MySpace before it) that are just applications. People, the audience, are the content. The content quality argument, suitability of environment, and many other factors we think of when we select destinations for our advertising are out the window. If we can harness the audience, the site’s content becomes as irrelevant as content is on Facebook or webmail.

You can buy content. If you have the audience, you can get the content you need on a revenue share basis. There are content exchanges like Mochila that help content find audiences. Marketers now look to social media for distribution of their advertising content. Content may not attract an audience but the value of an audience transcends the content.

People will bring their content to the party. Blog sites, YouTube, Flickr, even Facebook and Twitter are places people bring their content. People who resonate with this content via social or interest groups gain exposure to the content and the content builds within itself an inherent suitability of propose. Even if the production quality is very low or the topic is questionable, it is right for the consuming audience.

Display advertising is in a state of monumental change. As we see the rise of the trading desk, the DSP (demand-side platform), and the DMP (data management platform). The relationship between audience and content is up for serious review. If we can buy the audience we want to on a real-time bidding basis then content takes a back seat.

I am not talking about what blind ad networks were doing for years. I am not talking about contextual targeting and behavioural derivatives thereof. The day is coming very soon (even in Asia) when we can buy our own customer databases or other third-party databases for display ads and not just email. We can find our targets via the uber-reach of the DMPs and hit them with an emotive video ad while we ruthlessly control the frequency.

The future of content is just a question… brand-safe? Or not brand-safe? Every other factor could become irrelevant for a lot of marketers. Like the content-neutral environments of webmail and social networks, we may just see a de-emphasis of the importance of a page’s contents.

The short-term future (at least) belongs to the audience. Most online display companies are betting heavily on that fact. Publishers are already feeling the effects in some markets and the storm clouds are gathering. Bring on the rain!

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.