News & Views

Content: communication over consumption

by Katrina Dodd

Katrina Dodd on why content for communication trumps content for consumption

Nothing seems to generate quite so much eagerly anticipated content as the biannual Fashion Week bandwagon, lumbering through four cities in four weeks, with an army of photographers and commentators, professional and amateur alike, trailing in its wake.

The big story from last spring’s Fashion Week was the fallout from First Kiss, the viral video from upstart fashion company Wren that went so darn right, some folks felt positively duped by its artistry, tricked into enjoyment by – hold me! – a BRAND.

You can imagine their dismay. Traditionally, content related to brands has been clearly labelled as such, a bit like toxic waste. Presumably, this is to protect us from compromised storytelling, bland messages, tired formats and a predictably brand-centric point of view.

But things are beginning to change. Increasingly at Contagious we’re seeing more evidence of brands creating content not simply for passive consumption by an audience, but rather content that people might be inclined to share because it expresses something about who they are.

This has been most explicitly articulated and explored by Buzzfeed, and in particular at its relatively new video department, currently tooling up to understand and exploit the increasing significance of video. In charge of that mission is one Ze Frank, whose daily exploits on The Show With Ze Frank brought him an army of fans and a wealth of experience in the hands-on business of keeping them entertained.

In a webinar covered by the Nieman Journalism Lab Frank shares some of those insights, encapsulated in the comment: ‘This kind of repurposing of media not for consumption but for communication is, I think, the underpinning of this social age.’ In practice, Buzzfeed content tends to break down into three categories, each relating to the effect you wish that content to have on the people you share it with. ‘Emotional content’ might show people that you understand what they’re going through, and that you care. Identity-based content lets you connect on a more tribal level, with something that appeals on the basis of where a person is from or what football team they support. Informational content is a way of gently showing off your own expertise in or awareness of a particular subject or area.

The upshot is, if you’re trying to get people to share your content, you have to be as mindful of what it says about them, as what it says about your brand. In last week’s newsletter, EA SportsMadden GIFerator makes itself relevant to a nation of (American) football fans by not only making GIFs available for key moments in games-in-progress, but also allowing fans to customise each one with their own opposition-baiting caption… The campaign is all the more notable in the light of recent reports in the UK citing the Premier League’s intention to clamp down on fans posting unofficial Vines showing goals and other match highlights. Dan Johnson, director of communications at the Premier League, said: ‘It's a breach of copyright and we would discourage fans from doing it, we're developing technologies like gif crawlers, Vine crawlers, working with Twitter to look to curtail this kind of activity. I know it sounds as if we're killjoys but we have to protect our intellectual property.’

Killjoys? Perhaps, but they also sound like the music industry 10 years ago. As the article goes on to suggest, a better strategy for the Premier League would be to create a better-quality alternative… This is not quite the digression is seems. Well, it is, but I’m going to do my best to get back on track. Just as the GIFerator campaign allows fans to use dedicated content as way to express and celebrate their team affiliation, the use of Vine is currently performing the same function. Finding a way to legitimize that impulse could do the Premier League a world of good by bringing fans into the fold rather than demonizing them for capturing and amplifying crucial moments in a game.

Bringing this back around to fashion, this is exactly what Burberry and Topshop have been doing for the last few years with Fashion Week PR plays like the Tweetwalk and Shoot the Show that created a sharing frenzy on the back of access to content fans could curate and share to express their own take on the shows. We all have clothes we’d be reluctant to wear in public: the type of content we share is just as nuanced and subjective. Taking cues from what people are already sharing and emphasising content that acts as a catalyst to communication might help ensure that more of Fashion Week’s relentless cacophony works a little harder for the clothing, the brands and the communities it’s supposed to serve.