A message to the digital caliphate of Shoreditch: ‘content’ has been with us since the first cave paintings

The writer of this article is an experienced copywriter who wishes to remain anonymous lest he be branded a reactionary old fart and becomes the subject of a digital fatwa.

We hear much talk these days of ‘content’. Recently, for example, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, bemoaned the fact that his agencies – and he has many – seemed adept at creating 30-second commercials, but seemed unable or unwilling to produce ‘content’. What, pray, Sir Martin is a 30-second commercial if it is not ‘content’? And isn’t it a testimony to talent that people who work for you are able to distil a marketing company’s message into 30 short seconds, making sense of it along the way, and win a Cannes Gold Lion into the bargain?

It is my contention that ‘content’ has existed almost since time began. The only thing that has changed is the media in which it is presented. It consists of words, pictures and latterly films. And, no matter where it appears, the same principles of communication apply. Let me illustrate my point by giving a few examples: first, the cave drawings at Lascaux in the South West of France.

This ‘content’, created during the Paleolithic period, is as fresh today as when it was first painted. If you have been lucky enough to visit these caves or see pictures of them you will know that the product being promoted here is the joy of hunting for food. (I have just taken a look at the drawings online; I don’t suppose the Paleolithic content creators had any idea that one day their work would be displayed on the internet, but here it is for all to see, in the digital domain.)

Next, let’s examine The Rosetta Stone. The ‘content’ on this informative discovery, currently housed in the British Museum, is a decree written in hieroglyphs, Demotic and Ancient Greek. This ‘content’ enabled scholars finally to understand what the ancient Egyptians wrote in their hitherto unfathomable language of symbols. It opened the floodgates to a frenzy of activity amongst Egyptologists who were finally able to decipher the ‘content’ on all manner of pylons and obelisks.

Finally, a more up to date example, this ad for Parker Pens created in the late seventies. Copywriter, Tony Brignull and art director, Neil Godfrey, were responsible for this eye-catching double page spread. But what do we see here, if it isn’t ‘content’? And couldn’t the same idea be made to work equally well in the digital domain?

Which brings us to the present day and what Sir John Hegarty, founder of ad agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, has described as ‘digital messiahs acting like the Taliban’. These intolerant zealots argue that ‘everything’s digital, man’, and nothing else has a place in the modern world of marketing communications. What is any digital medium but a platform, no different from a television screen, newspaper, magazine or poster, in the sense that it delivers ‘content’ to the consumer?

I have spent more years than I care to remember writing commercials, print ads and posters. I still do. But I also write for digital media in all its forms – and believe me, my approach is no different. I still seek a clear understanding and knowledge of my client’s customers, his marketing ambitions, his competition, and the marketing communications of his competitors.

I still strive for a good idea, one that’s witty, persuasive and clearly expressed. I still try to be original, unexpected and relevant. And, most important of all, I still set out to entertain. In other words, my journey is the same; my destinations are different.

So – Digital Taliban, The ISIS of East London, inhabitants of the Caliphate of Shoreditch, you speak of nothing new. ‘Content’ has been around since man first learnt to scrawl on a cave wall. It’s just the media that has changed.

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