Dear creative agencies, your ads are not content

An ad or anything for that matter is content, but content marketing is not an ad. BuzzInContent talks to brands, content experts and creative agencies to burst the bubble around why creative agencies need to up their play on the content front. They need to unlearn a few things and learn to collaborate and consolidate content in-house, which can help marketers remain hooked to their services for all their marketing and communication needs

Akansha Srivastava
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Ask any creative agency head why brands have a notion that creative agencies can’t come out of the TVC or advertising mindset, and hence can’t fulfil their content marketing needs. The agency heads reply by saying what they are doing is also content and that they cannot differentiate between advertising and content.

Protiqe Mojoomdar, Co-Founder and Creative Producer at Handyyman, has worked across agencies such as DDB Mudra, Publicis, JWT and TBWA. He lays emphasis on the notion that advertising is content. He said, “I believe advertising is also consumed as content – let’s call it the smallest form of content.”

Another senior professional from a creative agency said, “Anything we create is content. We have been doing content since forever as advertising is also a form of content. Content marketing is just a new buzzword that everyone is latching on to.”

But, on the other hand, brands and other stakeholders say they understand the difference between advertising and content play, and are aware of the thin line that separates both.

A very senior marketing professional from a known brand, who didn’t want to be quoted, said, “Creative work (agency) and content marketing are poles apart in domain, talent, spends, etc. Advertising is centred round a product (read benefits of a product). Ultimately, it has to drive business. Content marketing is genuinely interested in solving a user’s problem. It helps the audience solve a problem. It’s a guide that helps prospects find a solution. It’s centred around a customer’s problems.”

In fact, he explained why creative agencies are reluctant to get into the content marketing game. He said, “Creative work is expensive, content marketing is not. “That explains why most creative agencies don’t get into content marketing, until their client forces them to.”

Purpose-driven advertising is not content marketing

Creative agencies have been creating certain brand campaigns, especially purpose-driven, that are led by content and storytelling. Those pieces of work are not to sell the brand but rather increase brand affinity by the way of social messaging or trying to bring societal or behavioural changes. Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad and Vicks’ #TouchOfCare are some examples of such sustained campaigns conceptualised and executed by creative agencies.

But could it be said that a few such works make brands believe that creative agencies can fulfil their content requirements? Can cause advertising be called as content marketing? Going by the definition of content marketing — where a piece of communication should not have the brand on face, it should not directly sell the brand, it should have an element of storytelling — the consumer should crave for consuming and sharing the piece. These campaigns disguise as a content marketing but can they be actually called a content marketing initiative by a brand?

Anil S Nair

Anil S Nair, CEO and Managing Partner, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi India, reiterated that purpose-driven advertising is advertising. He said, “You are using a strategy of advertising but instead of the proposition, you are making it purpose. But it is still advertising. People know that the brand is trying to tell me something.”

Many brands refuse to accept purpose-driven ads as content marketing and call them emotional ads created by creative agencies, which are usually led by content and storytelling.

Brands say content meant to be consumed by the consumer on their own—which has seamless brand integration into it—is real content marketing play, which creative agencies are not able to deliver because of their advertising mindset. The content could be anything from a drama to music to reality shows to comedy to informative content in text or audio or video formats.

Nair said, “I’m disputing that advertising is content but I’m having a problem with the fact that advertising agencies believe that they have been doing this for a long time and that it is jargon. It is not. Be it a brand video or brand AV, advertising is one of the content opportunities. Today, so many newer opportunities such as recipes, how-to and DIY are among several content opportunities for brands and agencies. How many creative agencies are tapping these opportunities? 

Why do then brands reach out to content specialists?

With content taking centre stage in brand building, independent content creators and distributors are giving advertising agencies, already struggling to make content, a run for their money.  Even though brands have creative agencies on board to help come up with marketing and communication solutions of all sorts, why do they then go to content specialists such as content platforms and content creators for content requirements?

Girish Bindal

Girish Bindal, Head of Content at Elara Technologies, the company that owns, and, said, “Content platforms and creators have their audience also, which these agencies don’t have. They try to make the story first and then fit in the product. Their pitch is not product first but content first. That’s the difference between how a content platform works and how a creative agency works.”

Advertising can be branded content but not content marketing

Content marketing can or cannot be about the product. But any piece of work, which has a brand in it, falls under the purview of branded content. Hence, an advertising piece can also be branded content.

Shamik Ghosh

Shamik Ghosh, Head, Content and Communications, Paisabazaar, said, “The lines are really blurring. Content marketing is content that could be or not be about the brand. While branded content is in any form, advertising can be in the form of branded content. A lot of brands are creating content for their CSR initiatives; that is not content marketing but branded content. In this kind of content, you are promoting your brand’s association with a special cause.”

It’s time for collaboration

The time has come when the creative agencies need to pull up their socks on the content front as well. It’s time for them to collaborate with content experts and no more work in silos. It’s time these agencies start hiring content specialists in-house. An advertising professional might not think or produce work that is content-driven. It might end up looking like advertising.

Theodor Arhio

“We need to start thinking about talent differently. Copywriters make horrible scriptwriters. We need to bring in actual content and entertainment creators. We can’t be lazy and assume that because we have this relationship with the brand, it is not automatically given that only we will create content for it. We have to earn it every day,” said Theodor Arhio, Global Director of Creative and Content, TBWA.

Bindal added, “Creative agencies are hiring people of that calibre. There are content folks getting into creative agencies. One will see consolidation happening in the future. There will be content people in creative agencies else they won’t be able to survive.”

It’s never too late

Creative agencies were in a denial mode when digital was growing and look where it stands today. Similar is the story with content. Today, there are many content agencies and content creators. Content platforms have directly established a relationship with brands, superseding their creative agencies. When will creative agencies concede that they are not in the game or left much behind? Why are they not upgrading their capabilities to meet the content needs of brands?

Nair concluded, “There are a lot of people today. There are enough clients having a conversation with independent content creators, saying go and understand my customer journey and tell us the available content opportunities accordingly. Because my agency is still thinking of long-format expensive videos.”

your ads are not content Dear creative agencies