Ritson, Value, Content and Bathwater


Ritson, Value, Content and Bathwater ...

Why Mark Ritson is Wrong About Content Marketing

Earlier this week, Mark Ritson penned a provocative piece in Marketing Week entitled “Is content marketing a load of bollocks?”

It’s a fascinating piece and well worth a read, as it points out a real problem for our industry: most “content” sucks.

The Value Problem

The most powerful point from Mark’s piece is this:

19 out of 20 pieces of content marketing have little if any impact.

…and he’s right.

Take a look at any major UK company’s blog and you’ll see that most of the “content” they’re churning out doesn’t do the following:

  • Teach visitors something new or useful
  • Give away handy resources for free (such as templates, cheat sheets and how-to-guides)
  • Inspire their visitors
  • Clearly and concisely answer the question implied by the title

Ritson rightly mentions we’re being overwhelmed with clutter – and it’s something all marketers need to reflect on.

The Definition Problem

One of the quirks of our industry is that we love coming up with complicated or vague words to describe what we do – and often they stick a little too strongly.

Ritson is up in arms about this:

all the definitions of content marketing I read just seem to describe marketing communications

He’s right. “Content marketing” is a vague term that’s entered our marketing lexicon but, love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.

Remember when “selfie” became the Oxford Dictionary word of 2013 and we collectively went mad over how our country was going to the dogs? Well the unfortunate bystanders in the marketing industry mightn’t like it, but new words like “native advertising” and “content marketing” quickly become the new normal.

Google Trends: “Content Marketing” vs “Marketing Communications” searches since 2004

The Practicality Problem

While we’d agree with Ritson that “Content Marketing” fits under the definition of Marketing Communications, referring to web content as “Marketing Communications” is tricky when working day-to-day in the ad industry.

Here’s Ritson’s take:

content marketers cite examples from 1895 (John Deer’s customer magazine) and P&G inventing the soap opera in the 1930s as examples of early content marketing innovations. Both are amazing marketing tactics but I see them as examples of direct mail and nascent advertising respectively, not something in need of a new name.

But are they really the same thing? When you think about it, content marketing is a smaller part of the bigger marketing communications picture.

The difference between marketing communications and content marketing - visualised

Then practicality comes in: the division of labour.

In an agency, you’ll likely see two separate roles in play:

  • marketing communications
    these guys develop communications strategies, plan and manage the marketing budget and project manage to make sure everything is on time and on-plan
  • content marketing
    these guys do the in-depth data-driven research, craft brilliant content that works (whether it’s direct mail, social posts, blog posts, whitepapers) and outreach it to the right people.

Marketing communications executives plan how the big picture will look, content marketers paint the picture.

While it’d be nice to live in a world where all of the above could be done by one person, we’re producing work for global brands day in, day out, not theorising about marketing.

When you’re working for global brands, you’ll find referring to a blog post as “marketing communications” will create more confusion than it’s worth. Confusion costs time and money in our industry and it goes back to the definitions problem – you might not like it, but the easiest way to be on the same page is to use the same language.

The Bathwater Problem

While we totally agree with Ritson on the failings of most content, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Whilst most content indeed fails, it doesn’t mean content marketing is “bollocks”. It means the people who’ve made the content suck.

Ritson is missing the point: discarding content marketing as “bollocks” because 95% of it doesn’t work. Is like saying “advertising is bollocks” because 95% doesn’t work.

As the ever-thoughtful Dave Trott says:

Scorsese and Spielberg don’t defend film, they defend great films. […]
The issue is what the issue always has been.
How do you generate that 1% share of voice into a 50% share of mind?

We’re not here to defend crappy content – and we’re 100% behind Ritson on the splurge of terrible content. But we don’t think renaming “content marketing” to “marketing communications” will solve any problems.

The Anticlimactic Finale

If you:

  • develop content around a brilliant idea
  • focus on overwhelming the target audience with value
  • amplify the message by sharing your content with the right people
  • ask for (and listen to) audience feedback

You’ll consistently succeed.

It’s that simple.

If you don’t - you can safely count yourself amongst the 95% - and you deserve to fail.

Are we using the wrong word to describe content marketing? Maybe.

But let’s not forget the bigger picture: we should be focussing on value, not semantics. Whatever the buzzword might be that describes how we’re doing it, we’re getting on and doing it.


equimedia’s content and social team works day-in, day-out creating value for our clients’ global audiences. With a people-first approach, an unwavering love for research and a keen eye for value, we create brilliant data-driven content to help people learn new things, be inspired and get more out of life.


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