What the heck is ‘content’?
Luke White explores changes in the marketing world in terms of content and promotion, and discusses with Alex Hoyles how to adapt to these changes to create high-quality content
Quentin Tarantino recently came to Auckland for the premiere of The Hateful Eight. It was a big deal: he signed autographs; all the media were involved; he went to Las Vegas strip bar on Karangahape Road. As you’re reading this now, that event is a distant memory. If you see a cool photo or video from that day straight after reading this article, chances are that you won’t give a toss — it’s old news. These days, people often malign ‘youth’ for their ever-decreasing attention spans. I take a more pragmatic approach: it’s nice to be concise. The buzz surrounding a media event or product launch has a half-life, with the value of related content decreasing with each passing hour, which is something we, as content creators, need to get used to.
‘Content’ is a word we are hearing a lot of in 2016. It is easy to dismiss it as representing low-value fluff for the web. This was how most people thought of content a couple of years ago: as an afterthought, something with which to entertain the kids on Facebook. As the TV– industrial complex crumbles, and people of all ages spend more time engaging in social media, content is more valuable for brands than ever. In the past year or two, ad agencies and brands have started to recognize the value of great online content as it directly relates to profits. This has led to the beginning of agencies paying photographers and videographers accordingly. ‘Web usage only’ no longer means a cheap budget; it usually means that the ad will get seen by more people than do those on TV, in print, and on billboards altogether. The budgets that used to be spent on buying TV air time are spent promoting social-media content, but also on making more content.
Content needs to be smart. It is not enough to flash a logo in front of people’s eyes with a catchy theme tune and expect them to hand over their cash. Brands need to earn eyeball time in today’s media-saturated world. ‘Content’ is different to ‘adverts’ — it might offer entertainment or education, but the viewer needs a reason to watch branded content rather than anything else in the ocean of other stuff out there. Content consumers demand quality and quantity.
‘Nowness’ is a video website started by Dazed & Confused co-founder Jefferson Hack with luxury brand LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton). It commissions wonderful (and high-budget) short films on fashion, art, culture, travel, and other genres, releasing one every single day. If you don’t know Nowness, you should go and take a look right now. LVMH has always been a major patron of the arts, and Nowness was a very smart move for their profile. Even though there is no overt branding on the website, it offers huge value in positioning the brands — far more so than any number of glossy ads in magazines.
Recently, I spoke with Alex Hoyles, a young photographer/videographer who creates a lot of content for a range of companies. Hair and beauty brands, including Estée Lauder and Redken, make up a large proportion of Alex’s clientele. He understands their needs perfectly: fresh, high-quality motion and stills content. In fact, 80 per cent of his work comes from regular clients or recommendations. The other 20 per cent is from brands that he has specifically targeted and sought out. Five years ago, brands would ask Alex for perhaps a five-minute video of an event or product launch; today, people’s interest is far more fleeting — they want to see more in a shorter amount of time. A six-hour product launch event might see Alex bring in four contractor videographers to shoot different things simultaneously. Around 300GB of footage might be edited down to a 60-second brand video, with a different 30-second video for Facebook and a series of five different 15-second clips for Instagram. If that saying about throwing manure to see what sticks comes to mind, this simply does not apply. Try making a Rembrandt from a wall plastered in cow pats — though the ubiquity of ‘good enough’ online content from people shooting on their phones means the quality of footage does need to be high to begin with.
If he’s covering a time-sensitive event (which is more often than not) such as Fashion Week, the brands want the final product in their hands the day afterwards. This speedy turnaround can be trying, and Alex factors in the cost of hiring editors for each shoot that he does. While he tries to do the editing himself when possible, it is not worth the risk of having three consecutive shoot days and not being able to get the product to his client in time.
Alex estimates that he edits 50per cent of his video content. Editing on a short turnaround can be a big job, but, when he doesn’t have the time to cut his own clips, he employs an editor who is fast, good, and clearly understands the direction for the project.
Shooting video with a fast turnaround also means that it’s a lot harder to give viewers that ‘wow’ factor. A photographer with a flash and beauty dish can easily create portraits unlike those the sitter has ever seen. For a videographer working solely with environmental light, the results will usually look like a slightly better-looking version of what happened. The constant challenge with creating work on such a tight schedule is to bring a level of artistry. This is why Alex really relishes working on more creative projects, such as short films and music videos, for which there is a plan, a script, and a much more manageable sense of urgency.
Many clients have an expectation for stills alongside video and vice versa. It is certainly easier to provide the former than the latter, but both can be done if you are prepared. This is where it comes down to budget and managing expectations as to what is and is not possible within a certain timeframe and/or budget. One of Alex’s regular clients is L’Oreal, and, on a recent one-and-a-half-day shoot demonstrating six style makeovers, he had to shoot everything. He shot before-and-after photographs for each look, documentation photographs for the technical guides that go out to salons and trade shows, as well as product images of the bottles. He also made a 90-second video of each makeover.
While all of this might sound exhausting, there are a lot of great things about creating high-quality stills and motion for online use. The nice thing about working for most brands is that they are constantly releasing new products, which means that they require a steady stream of new content. Now is the time to be offering brands and advertising agencies solutions for content creation — proper budgets are being allocated for this kind of work, and the world of marketing is changing quickly.