No John, content marketing is journalism

There are few advertising slogans so synonymous with their brand as Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’. Sir John Hegarty, the man who wrote that line, is considered one of the founding fathers of the UK ad industry and his agency BBH a purveyor of the sector’s finest wares. When he talks, marketing people tend to listen.

Hegarty has given his opinion on content marketing – and it isn’t complimentary. In short, advertising is designed to be memorable – like the aforementioned Audi campaign. Content is not.

Asked about the brand-produced videos garnering millions of views on YouTube, Hegarty’s response is that this sort of content does not have the cut-through of a good TV ad. He explains:

“I used to say I want my auntie in Harpenden to say ‘John, did you do that?’ That’s when I know I’ve cracked it. ‘Did you do that Hovis ad, John?’ ‘No, sadly I didn’t.’ ‘Oh, it’s a really good one, you should do more like that.’ That’s when you’ve cracked it.”

Another campaign cited is Levi’s Launderette featuring Nick Kamen.

Apparently people don’t have the same recall for content marketing, says Hegarty. No one can roll out a quote in the same way as Vorsprung durch Technik.

The answer

There are two responses. Firstly, Hegarty is reflecting a wider issue within the advertising sector. It is no coincidence that these classic ads are from the 70s and 80s. Back when there were only three or four channels and half the country tuned in on a Saturday night.

The lack of fragmentation in media and the willingness of marketers to both spend money and push boundaries was crucial in delivering such great advertising. And another thing: consumers had yet to reach marketing burn-out.

It is simply a fact that two recessions have hammered marketing budgets, while fragmentation has meant you have to target your approach. It is difficult for any kind of campaign to cut through to all sections. In some cases it is negative.

Answer number two

The second response is even simpler. Content marketing is not a replacement for advertising; the only threat is in terms of budget. The two disciplines lying in its crosshairs are PR and journalism. The latter is changing as a consequence of dwindling newsrooms while the former may well be on the edge of eradication.

Seen through this prism, Hegarty’s line on content marketing does not stand up. It is not about remembering a quote, just as it’s probably difficult to recall a quote by Christopher Hitchens. Content marketing is about informing in a clear way. It is journalism.

Still for those suffering from nostalgia, here is a coin-operated blast from the past.

No John, content marketing is journalism is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.