Content Incontinence.

Posted on 9th February, 2014

B2B marketing – not that such a thing exists anymore, as anyone who works in a formerly B2B-focused agency will eagerly and somewhat tediously avow, using the word ‘human’ or ‘people’ to an extent that is beyond parody – is all about ‘content’, we are increasingly told. And, specifically, success in B2B marketing in the 21st century is about producing more ‘content’ – more ‘white papers’, more collateral, more microsites, more video, more, more, more.




I have nothing against any of this in principle. It’s just that I think that ‘content’s’ ability to achieve any type of cut-through is getting increasingly limited.


This is for three reasons.


Firstly, and on a totally personal level, when did you, at any point in, say, the last 12 months, say to yourself: ‘I wish I had some more work-related things to read or watch’? Most of us are just about keeping our heads above water managing and prioritising everything we are being asked to consume, content-wise, right now. We used to joke about people having ‘verbal diarrhoea’; now it’s organisations who suffer, gleefully swallowing laxative after laxative, as provided by their agencies.


Secondly, and notwithstanding this ubiquity, most of what is produced simply ain’t very good. Ask someone who ‘consumes’ it for a living. Alex Jenkins, of Contagious Magazine, does just that. In amongst all the introspective, creative clamour, Jenkins asks whether anyone is actually thinking about ‘how much attention…this story deserves’? To do, he says, rightly, requires a ‘level of honesty about a brand’s importance in the lives of its customers and potential customers’ – an area where, as an industry, we are weak. Similarly, wonders Jessica McGreal, in February’s edition of B2B Marketing Magazine, ‘is no one else is bored with reading page upon page of white papers that don’t communicate anything new?’. Amen, sister.


Thirdly, and perhaps most profoundly, the whole ‘content, content, content’ premise is based, it seems to me, on a fairly démodé anthropological assessment. In his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think, Read And Remember, Nicholas Carr suggests that as a species our brains are changing; and fundamentally so.


We are moving, Carr says, from the ‘calm, focused, linear mind of the past to one that demands information in short, disjointed bursts – the faster the better.’ Indeed, research recently revealed that the average attention span had reduced by a third (from 12 seconds, to just 8) in the course of just over a decade.


This affects everything, of course, that we as marketers do, not just ‘content’. And it raises some very difficult questions for the industry. For example, what should this changing nature of the way that we think mean for Bernbach’s famous twinning, the relationship between art direction and copywriting? And might the different way we digest and process information mean the final nail in the coffin for Ogilvy’s pet, the long-copy ad?


If, as B2B marketers, we were really as focused on human-to-human as we claim to be, we’d be giving some serious thought to all of the above, as opposed to just bashing out one earnest ‘white paper’ after another.


As my friend and colleague Adam Proops asked in a recent piece for Forbes, ‘is it that modern life is rubbish, or just that we are hammered with incessant crap?’




I call it ‘content incontinence’.


And as an industry, it’s high time we all took some Imodium.


- this piece first kindly published by Campaign Magazine at

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