We don't attend too many conferences, so two in one month could easily seem like a bit of 'conference overload' were it not for both of them taking a peak at something close to our hearts - branded content.
The first was Initiative Talks - 'Video Is King'. Of the many take-away's from the day, one stood out for me and alarmingly so - the desire of many advertisers to support the idea that we must have everything now. Right now. Amongst other things, complicated algorithms serving 'instant' ads and pieces of 'content' based on up to the second data collection. Its the premise of 'instant gratification' versus longer, more thoughtful engagement. Some might argue this hints less of strategy and more of hitting a panic button - 'we're not sure what they want, so lets wait and see what they click on and give them more of that.'
For branded content this translates to 'keep it short'. And yet this premise flies in the face of strong evidence to the contrary - that many people have a voracious appetite for long form content, if its compelling and entertaining - witness the binge viewing of Netflix for example. Surely we should be striving towards producing more compelling and engaging content.
By contrast PHD's Brainscape event was nothing short of a deepdive into the future led by Jason Silva, the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic Channel’s ‘Brain Games’, futurologist and renowned performance philosopher. If you haven't seen Jason in action before, he's like a mini tornado throwing down extremely thought provoking observations and wreaking intellectual havoc on the collective conscious of the unsuspecting. Loose concentration for a minute and you're likely to slip through one of your brains many black vortexes he so passionately spoke about. And whilst he left some wishing they could hit the rewind button, there's no doubting his infectious enthusiasm for highlighting some pretty 'out there' thinking.
However, as much as Jason was excited about the undeniable pace of change the world is going through, so it was left to the other speakers to bring things closer to home. In particular, it was interesting to hear Evidently CEO Dan Zeff voice his concerns about the kind of future that lays ahead. For despite the advance of technology, a nagging doubt exists over whether its being used to a create better world for our children? And in terms of the world of branded content, even more interesting were Dan's observations about good old fashioned story telling and how "the oral tradition of telling and re-telling of stories is essentially unchanged and has adapted to technology brilliantly".
And this is where Dan and I connect. I believe that as story tellers, its our job to keep people both entertained and engaged. The two are mutually exclusive. I also empathize with Dan in worrying about the kind of landscape the future holds for our children.
Why do many in advertising seem to be jumping on the 'give them what they want right now' band wagon? Or in content terms, why do we need to dumb everything down to 6 second clips of shared irrelevance? Do we really need to encourage a generation of ADD kids? Or a culture where a child's sense of self worth is determined by the number of 'likes' they get on social media?
As an industry that likes to place itself at the forefront of thought leadership, shouldn't 'advertising' take a stand? Isn't it better to help foster more sustainable values – quality over quantity, substance over speed, thought provoking engagement over superficial messaging - rather than churning out a consumer driven Kardashian-esque pop culture?
Perhaps 'advertising' should take a leaf out of the PR industry's book. In August this year, some of the world’s top PR companies, for the first time publicly ruled out working with climate change deniers, marking a fundamental shift in the multi-billion dollar industry that has grown up around the issue of global warming.
In the meantime, I believe audiences want us to produce content that engages, entertains and inspires. And we can do this through great story telling. Great stories connect us to the world around us. Great stories build relationships. However, its not a short term exercise and neither is branded content. You have to be in it for the long run. Only then can you reap the true benefits and maybe make a difference in the process.
Written by Ian Carless