He Who’s Worthy Does Not Advertise

Businesses Made Online Content Addictive and Trivial

He Who’s Worthy Does Not Advertise

Image by Vsevolod Shvayba

Businesses Made Online Content Addictive and Trivial

People had started to quit or disconnect Facebook and Twitter accounts from their personal lives years ago. Gradually, few narratives have been replacing one another. The fears of personal data collection gave way to irritation with the quality of the content. And recently, the understanding has come that we ourselves are a huge part of the problem. It’s time to become part of the solution.

If you are a Redditor, you might have noticed that the number of upvotes is inversely proportional to the amount of efforts you invest in a post, and exceptions prove the rule. That really raises doubts whether you should read the “hot” page at all. If you are a Quora user, regardless of the scope of your interests, your home page should have surprised you with questions of grotesque stupidity receiving tons of attention and equally stupid answers that get even more attention. In my case, to stop the Quora feed insulting my intelligence, I had to click through a few dozen posts about why did Sauron use the language of elves on the ring or whether Gandalf had a deeper friendship with Frodo or with Bilbo — that’s of the same irrelevancy to the few narrow topics I use Quora for and to my personal interests — but at least I don’t have to shrug every time I check my messages on Quora. Even Medium is subject to the same disease. Although I admire its architect’s skill, Medium keeps feeding me junk self-improvement lectures, and blocking “gurus” doesn’t really help.

Most people are probably not as disappointed as I am, but I’m sure many feel the balance has been lost. At some point something went really wrong. Our individualized feeds shouldn’t have become that goofy, trivial content should not have become that dominant in the common log-off space. Of course, we’d be naive to expect a truly healthy online environment, the one without the exploitation of people’s psychological vulnerabilities, but it does feel we have made the cup run over.

Ad-blocking is Only the Initial Phase of Public Reaction

The line has already been crossed by annoying ads. Thus, we now have ad-blockers at the adoption rate close to 1/2. We will soon have artificial intelligence based ad-blockers that are impossible to circumvent or tame as Google is now trying to do with the incumbent ad-blocking industry. Online ads are pretty much doomed already, including “native” advertisement. The latter has been a hope for a while but not any more. The “partner material” blindness develops fast, not any slower than the banner blindness. There’s no come back from using ad-blocking so whenever that AI-based ad-blocking piece is launched — which is expected pretty soon — it will immediately start from a very high adoption rate since many current blocking users will simply upgrade.

This picture is meant to promote using ad-blockers. See how different a street looks with no visual noise?

The most frequently pronounced line in the ad-blocking debate is “let’s try to cure things by becoming better, all of us.” The question is: who’s going to pay for that? From an ordinary publisher’s standpoint, for the sake of momentary business efficiency, it is no sin to use a display network even if it broadcasts some inferior ads. Those unflattering practices are here to stay until the very end, whatever shape that end takes. And there’s no pity. There’s no reason we should lament the troubles of people who hire professional manipulators to deceive us, or worry about the manipulators themselves.

Transition to quality content will happen at the cost of online advertising’s existence itself. Click bait and addiction-provoking tactics in both advertising and content creation have poisoned the free web and it’s too late for any non-radical cure. This vicious circle cannot be gradually solved.
Madmen are themselves outside the sphere of society’s needs, just as the Lucky Strike they hope to sell.

To be fair, online advertisers’ tolerance to using obnoxious ads hasn’t been developing in a vacuum. The current design of the mainstream feedback loops is obviously wrong, as they are too short. It shouldn’t be that simple to promote a piece of content. The dominance of trivial content is the result of business models based on addiction-provoking tactics. The culture of “likes”, the cost-per-click model — what if all this was a terrible idea from the start? The online oligopoly members, headed by Facebook and Google who enjoy ¾ of all ad revenue, are eager to safeguard their privileges and padlock their ranks. Now, when we see the elite has obviously erred, it is essential for publishers to take a stand and chose the people’s side.

The Public will Cast Away the Dominance of Primitive Content

People are pretty good at figuring out the source of their comfort, and vice versa, what ruins it. Literally every anti-utopian, apocalypse, and cyberpunk story of the late 20th century is wrong: we’re doing fine and every year adds to our comfort generally, regardless of GDP fluctuations. So, sooner or later, just as it happened to ads, a cure against this irritatingly silly content flow will be found.

None of that gloomy, cyberpunk, apocalyptic nonsense will ever come true, fortunately.

But how is the transition to quality and non-trivial content going to work? Besides a simple observation that those publishers with the worst ads will take the worst content with them to the grave, the subscription (or generally paid-for) model is the main consideration. When equipped with the new blockchain-based in-browser micropayment capabilities, users might rush to new content-on-demand platforms. This is already happening in other, more expensive media segments with help from Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. Maybe a few bucks paid to Medium monthly, which by that time controls most of publishers under the platform trap, will satisfy our daily information hunger with no harm to mental health.

Optimistically though, I even hope for a cool rebirth of the genre. With those beautiful expensive new “TV” series such as Fargo or BB, crumpled two-hours-long confusions called movies become much less attractive. That was the result of the business model shift. No offense to Instagram celebrities, but I’d be happy to meet new types of quality writers that publisher platforms will filter out to make famous and rich.

The Web Content Pendulum Started to Move away from Liberal Apogee

Reality gives us more and more hints that advertising as we know it is like smoking — it is still legal, but commonly considered fundamentally wrong and generally bad for people. A no-ads, no trivial content world will have user ratings and expert rankings to substitute advertising. Plus professional paid-for content. Additionally, enriching pieces of content marketing may replace paid-by-ads “free” content altogether.

Worlds like that existed before. Talk to an older representative of Soviet intelligentsia and you might hear an ill-concealed ecstasy. A tired human memory blocks bad experiences, such as violation of basic human rights and a lack of even basic goods, but brings to the surface memories of the excellent average quality of content (mental filters against propaganda are easy to train).

In recent years, information has not only become plentiful, it also became mostly inferior so the web content pendulum has reversed towards the “totalitarian” extreme of limited and censored content. Were we to continue, our gut feeling has warned us, we would spell the entire web’s ruin. The massive pendulum just started to go in a new direction. It will change direction again at some point in the future, but for now, marketers should prepare themselves for a situation much less liberal than what we have today.

Every Business Should be Ready for This Tectonic Shift

If you run a business, one far from the advertising issue and not really dependant on direct online ads, why should you care at all? Because chances are your partner or an adjacent business uses a lot of ads and that will affect you, with a little delay. Digital advertising just isn’t robust enough a mechanism to withstand such large drops in productivity when ad-blocking is already eating up a good portion of efficiency. Moreover, the crisis comes from several other directions; signs and echoes of it are everywhere. Why would Facebook be “miscalculating” its ad reach lately, over ten times in a year long period? Why would Google turn schizophrenic enough to incorporate an ad-blocker in Chrome? Chances are the control is already lost and nobody can fix the sinking ship.

Whatever comes next year or in the next decade, we have to take care of things today. I suggest equipping your website with a pdf-format formal white paper or branded industry report. As time goes on, this might be your foot in the door of the content marketing that will keep some fresh air coming in until you figure out your new promotion strategy.

Starting with a White Paper is a Universally Good Idea

Every successful business, regardless of its size or industry sector, has some philosophy behind it, a world-view. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be successful in the first place. Most businesses do not tell their inner story, though. Rather, almost all businesses share their ideology and the service description only in the format of an election-race-style loud shouting of short slogans from the slowly passing campaign headquarters bus. That’s the way we used to have our websites arranged — icons, short phrases only the marketer could understand completely, shortage of data, complex hyperlinked structuring. By the way, did you ever notice that reading text with hyperlinks is not easy? You get distracted, you jump from page to page, you can’t get rid of a feeling that without following those links you won’t understand the ultimate meaning of the text.

Add to this confusion encrypted marketing formulas. Are they all designed to awaken some mechanisms in a collective mind of a crowd or something? Do they really work? Am I missing that being raised under a different cultural code? I always wonder why just not talk normally. Why not tell about your business and philosophy calmly, like in a cafe, sharing a table and a cup of tea? In application to websites, that would be a downloadable-pdf white-paper format.

By the way, this pdf notion is exactly how I originally came to the understanding and appreciation of content marketing in general: when having to do some intensive industry studies and competition researches, I figured that reading industry players’ websites is a complete waste of time. One should limit the search by always including “pdf” into the search phrase. Doing so gives a great shortcut to the core of the information.

Without a whitepaper, you miss the important and resourceful stratum of potential customers. A more focused person rarely wastes time deciphering fluffy slogans and buzzwords an average landing page consists of. A person like that will pay less attention to your website if it does not offer the description of your ideas and services in a white paper format.

More Benefits from Content Marketing

You do not need to create a lot of content to start shifting from advertising to content marketing. You can start with one paper and it is going to bring you traffic for quite a while. The typical process flow starts with hiring a content marketer who you rigorously teach about your vision and allow for broad discretion to wrap it into the best “selling” form. Then, after creating the initial white paper or branded industry report, you should make satellites such as infographics sets, video presentations, a Slideshare file, etc. A distribution campaign typically consists of reaching out to the right influencers and doing some dissemination over specialized platforms. An advanced content strategy has a strong self-propelled effect in social media. A well-written whitepaper creates a strong emotional connection. The extent to which people trust and share content heavily depends on its perceived worth. People unconsciously look for clues of effort and money invested. Since you tell a story no one else can tell, your brand constitutes the practical value.

Content marketing materials are great for SEO. With advanced and unusual content, you can resonate with your target audience while presenting your brand as a trusted resource. A thoughtful industry report can generate traffic for years.

Traditional marketing is becoming less and less effective anyway, so you really should give some content marketing a try. It produces a completely new feeling of the brand. It does not irritate people with sales pitches. It is immune to ad-blocking, at least so far. And it generates stable traffic. You will love it.

Content Marketing Is Easy to Abuse

Give a fool enough rope, and he will hang himself. The phenomenon has already got a name: “the content marketing paradox” — brands’ content creation and distribution expenditures grow, but consumer engagement falls. Brands often consider content marketing as a pick-up technique rather than a long process of courtship; they begin with messaging that is supposed to be at the end of a long and pleasant story. Marketers taught by the advertising era tend to sing the same tune of their usuals sores instead of what readers want. Of course, every brand needs to apply some content marketing, but the approach is too easy to abuse.

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