Content or Nontent? That is the question.


Fear of the unknown “makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of[.]/Thus conscience does make cowards of us all” – Anyone who, like Hamlet, is surrounded by potential choices, can certainly have doubts now and then. In general, people simply stay on the usual path, doing what everyone does. And that brings us to fainthearted communication. Even when trends are just barely taking hold, the masses are already plodding away in step. Take content marketing, for example:

Advertisers of all kinds are just throwing the phrase willy-nilly into their Xing profiles and onto websites. Using content for marketing is the industry topic of the year. It has made the covers of advertising magazines, and the number of seminars on it is rising (mine, with Marconomy, is here, by the way). The goal is to use informative content that provides both advice and entertainment to win people over as customers or retain existing customers. The conditions for this have never been more favorable than they are right now, since companies can reach their target groups directly via their own media offerings – in words, sounds, text, and images.

Supposed content is often nonsense

The fact that businesses are finally recognizing the power of the new distribution options and investing in content marketing is a pleasing development. On the flip side, that means websites, timelines, newsletters, search results, and customer magazines will soon feature even more baloney.

After all, a lot of the stuff that is being produced, posted, and published might seem like content, might even look like content – but it isn’t. It’s nontent: Content that must be hugely important from the sender’s viewpoint, but is just incomprehensible, uniform nonsense to the recipient. And it is often written in a style that makes even Shakespeare look easy – although there is obviously no aesthetic comparison.

There are some classic pieces of nontent, including:

  • In press releases, “a leading provider” of something or other (online media portals are a chamber of horrors in terms of PR in general);
  • The usual “have a great weekend!” comments and galleries of cat photos on corporate Facebook pages;
  • Websites copy-written in a forced style aimed solely at SEO (customers are the target group, not Google!);
  • Events with lifeless customer presentations and endless bombardment with PowerPoint slides;
  • Cringeworthy corporate videos that don’t even have what it takes to spark real controversy.
  • And so on.

Corporate and product stories also still suffer too much from a lack of people who talk and act like people. Emotions are hardly ever featured, let alone surprising turns of events, and the staging and direction have all the charm of a nursing home. In short: There is a lack of everything that makes life interesting, the things that have kept some dramatists successful for as much as 400 years.

Deficient quality, little autonomy

Nontent stems from many causes. Corporate guidelines and branding specifications bring storytelling and inspiration to a grinding halt, and there is still a widespread lack of journalistic and digital understanding. And then there are requests made by salespeople (who tend to prefer “push” tactics), exaggerated political correctness, and lack of the courage to stand out. Besides that, more and more people are filling an increasing number of channels, copying each other in the process. Logically, that comes at the expense of quality and autonomy.

So, the world isn’t ideal, and “time is out of joint,” to borrow another turn of phrase from Hamlet. As marketers, communicators, and agency people, though, we should still make every effort to reduce the amount of nontent out there. Instead of just standing back in amazement at the content marketing stunts cooked up by Red Bull and a few other prime examples, we should switch on our common sense for our projects, asking ourselves just one question right off the bat: “Are the topics and content we want to publish truly so relevant and useful, so entertaining and exciting, that I would want to get into them even at home on my sofa?” Answer honestly and take action consistently! Unlike Hamlet, we only stand to gain.

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