letterpress - content marketing by another name?
PHOTO: Hannes Wolf

Mark Ritson has some strong opinions on content marketing.

Writing in Marketing Week, Ritson calls the practice "bollocks" — or as the URL puts it, "bullshit."

At the risk of adding more content to what he rightly points out is an already glutted field — I disagree.

Lured in By a Story

Ritson tells the tale of being hoodwinked by a friend's story when he was younger. He compares the very raw feeling of embarrassment then to the visceral reaction he has now to the practice of content marketing.  

He argues that, as a practice, content marketing provides no value, as it is exactly what brands have done from the earliest days of advertising. He uses the classic content marketing examples of John Deere and P&G to support his case. 

Ritson also rails against the clutter that all this new content is creating, and quotes the definition Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, uses:

    “a meaningless term invented by bullshit artists to add gravitas to mundane marketing activities.”

The Truth Lies In-Between

A lot of the kinds of activities that are called content marketing today are giving it a bad name.

And I agree that the hype bubble surrounding the practice could probably use a cynical pin prick.  

But the truth lies somewhere between the bah-humbug of folks like Ritson and Hoffman and the hype that suggests it’s a revolution. 

I can’t claim the credibility of Ritson, a marketing academic with a distinguished career. 

I’ve championed the case for content marketing, I grew a practice within an agency and ran content marketing for a half a billion-dollar business.

The argument that content marketing is nothing new, but what good marketers have always done, is a sound argument that we've heard many times. 

The people I respect who work in the content marketing field also subscribe to this argument. 

Robert Rose, who wrote one of the practice bibles "Managing Content Marketing," recommended I read Theodore Levitt's seminal 1960 article "Marketing Myopia" when we first worked together, an acknowledgement that the practice builds on the foundations of the past.

Development of a Content Marketing Practice

Good content marketing practices should distill what's been done well in the past, amongst all the terrible marketing that surrounded it. Proven results, like those of John Deere and P&G, inspire marketers to learn what these examples did well and define those successful tactics as a practice.

Like any other trade or craft, this practice — like others in the marketing field — has been given a name. It has become shorthand for the best practice one should do as a marketer in understanding the audience and being useful and relevant to them.  

That goal isn't (or shouldn’t be) something new, but the kind of audience insight previously only available to a few well-funded marketing teams, is now available to all – and that is new. No marketer today needs to be driven purely by gut. 

Ritson appears to lay blame for all of the poorly done marketing out there in large part to the codifying of the content marketing practice, as if by naming it marketers received a license to write poorly.

A Name and a Goal

Is the term redundant? Perhaps. 

Can we look forward to the day when content marketing fades away (like “digital marketing”) to become just a thing that all modern marketers do? I hope so.

However, as long as marketers and their executive management ask for content marketing, practitioners will continue to offer it. 

But for now, as we try and pull this industry out of spam, clumsy Facebook remarketing and all the dross that Ritson rightly points out clutters our daily digital experience, I still must say no, content marketing isn't bullshit or bollocks, it’s marketers striving to do better.