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

The Shed - - Column - Luke White

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.

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