“Content” is the Worst Word the Marketing World Ever Invented

“Content” is whatever happens to fill a void. The word is meaningless.

How I feel whenever someone says “content.”

Note: This essay originally appeared on my blog.

“Content marketers, in a modern version of marketing myopia, seem to think that their reason for existence is to create content rather than communicate with clients and sell stuff.” — Mark Ritson, “Is ‘content marketing’ a load of bullocks?” in Marketing Week

If I say that I saw a “TV commercial,” you would know in general what I mean. If I say that I received a “sales catalogue” in the mail, you would know in general what I mean. If I say that I read an “opinion column” on TechCrunch, you would know in general what I mean. If I say that I need to produce a piece of “content,” you would have absolutely no idea what I mean.

If you want to create “content,” you have no idea what to create, whether you should create it, why you should create it, and how you should create it. The term is vague and useless.

“Content is anything you can upload to the web. In other words, it is pretty much anything. It is a Shakespeare sonnet and a picture of my cat’s ass. It bestows value on anything, and in so doing, debases everything. Content is everything, and it’s nothing. It’s an artificial word thrown around by people who know nothing, describing nothing. It is an excuse masquerading as a resource. Content is a con. It is the ultimate Seinfeld episode: it’s a show about nothing.” — Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, “Why I hate content
“‘Content’ is a word for people who don’t really care what’s produced as long as they can sell it, or put ads against it, or use it as part of their marketing strategy. I wince every time I catch myself using it. In too many cases, artists have been downgraded to the status of mere ‘content creators.’” — Martin Bryant, “Content” is a vile word,” The Next Web

Marketing has always been the creation of a message, the insertion of that message into a piece of content and the transmission of that content over a channel to an audience. Marketing has always involved the creation and transmission of “content,” so all marketing is “content marketing.” “Content marketing” means nothing precise, specific, or useful. If you do marketing, then you have already made the assumption that you will create and transmit some type of “content.”

As Gareth Dimelow summarizes: “It’s simply a word that defines the material that fills an empty vessel.”

“The question shouldn’t be “what is my content marketing strategy?” in the same way that marketers shouldn’t be asking “what’s my TV strategy?”. Start with the founding idea and brand truth and the platforms and mechanisms will follow.” — Lara O’Reilly, “‘Content marketing’ is a meaningless buzzword that needs to buzz off,” Marketing Week

“Content” is a tactic, not a strategy. “Content” is produced in the execution of strategies such as advertising, SEO, and publicity. There is a time and a place to use — and NOT to use — those strategies, and each of those strategies have associated best practices. If the best strategy is advertising, then incorporate the best advertising practices when creating the advertisement. If the best strategy is SEO, then incorporate the best SEO practices into the web pages that you build. Do not use the cliched word “content.” Be more precise and state exactly what you mean. That will return the most value.

“We never call anything that’s good “content.” Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, “Wow! What great content!” Nobody listens to “content” on their way to work in the morning. Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a “content creator”? If they did, I bet he would punch ’em in the nose.” — Greg Satell, “Content Is Crap and Other Rules for Marketers,” The Harvard Business Review

“Content” is not a commodity. “Creatives” do not scale. If you assembly line the creation of marketing collateral, you will get crap. Just ask what I thought of the work of the “content creation” company that tried to sell me 1,000-word technical blog posts at $60 each.

“The term “content marketing” single-handedly commoditizes the creative process and completely ignores the insight, passion and importance of creating mind-grabbing, heart-stirring messages that force your audience to remember your brand for years to come. Personally, as someone who spent 30-plus years striving to perfect this now forgotten craft, I find the term insulting.” — Mark Choate, Founder/President at Craft Beer Planit in a comment on this TechCrunch column of mine.
“We publish content like vending machines dispensing empty calories.” — Ari Rosenberg, “No one will admit the biggest problem with Internet marketing,” MediaPost

Here’s the problem.

“I’ve learned over the years to be very wary of any new fad that puts a word in front of “marketing.” Marketing is marketing. Buzzwords, new communications channels and marketing gurus come and go, but the fundamentals of marketing remain. “Content marketing” is not a new kind of marketing. At best, it’s about some new communication tools; at worst, it’s putting the cart before the horse.” — Stephen Downes, “The trouble with ‘content marketing,’” Wellmark

Bob Hoffman is less polite: “Content” is “a meaningless term invented by bullshit artists to add gravitas to mundane marketing activities.”

It’s also largely ineffective.

“Reviewing any major brand publishing effort reveals that, barring a few outliers, the majority of content published to these sites receives next to no links and goes nowhere, receiving few shares.” — Mark Higginson, “Why the ‘brands as publishers’ trend is utter nonsense,” Econsultancy

Stop thinking about “content” and do real marketing.

For more in terms of the larger context of marketing strategy, see these two columns of mine in TechCrunch:

Know of any other good diatribes against “content” and “content marketing”? Let me know, and I’ll add them here!


A for­mer jour­nal­ist and news­pa­per edi­tor turned inter­na­tional dig­i­tal market­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sional, Samuel Scott is a 
market­ing speaker and crafter of strate­gic mar­ket­ing cam­paigns that integrate both tra­di­tional and online mar­ket­ing. He is Direc­tor of 
Mar­ket­ing and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions for
log analysis software company Logz.io as well as a con­trib­utor to TechCrunch, The Next Web, and Moz. Scott has been quoted or cited by publications including AdWeek, CIO, Fortune, and Search Engine Land. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.