Want to be a digital success? Let’s start by defining what it is.

“… so what is the difference between editorial and advertising? Is there a difference?”… These were the words of the head of digital, of a global advertising giant, an industry that produces 85% of branded content online, worth upwards of US$500 billion per annum.
Advertising vs editorial content, Vogue UK 2015

“So what can you do for us?”

“We produce editorial-styled content, for businesses.”

“… so what is the difference between editorial and advertising? Is there a difference?

With this my jaw hit the floor. I sat there thinking to myself ‘if this guy did not study communications 101, surely he has seen a magazine, website, or television show?’

Judging by my sense of shock, the gentleman replied “Well, obviously there is a difference, and I should know about it…”

These were not the words of a mere communications lay person. These were the words of the head of digital, of a global advertising giant. In other words, the head of digital for a leading company, in an industry that produces 85% of branded content online, worth upwards of US$500 billion per annum.

Since the ancient Egyptians, editorial and advertising have existed, side by side. So what is the difference between advertising and editorial, or just plain content? Experts often describe advertising as ‘paid media’ and editorial as ‘non-paid’ media. I believe that the fundamental difference is that advertising is created from the product’s perspective, whereas editorial content is created from an audience’s perspective. Although advertisements usually use content as a vehicle to reach their target audience, the purpose and presentation of advertising and content is very different. This difference can be easily identified in a magazine, website, newspaper or television broadcast. Have you ever watched a television show with the sole purpose of watching commercials? Your answer is probably no. People do not watch television for the ads, they watch television to engage in a broadcast or recording of specific content. It is the same for other types of media. An audience invests in editorial or broadcast content, they do not invest in advertisements.

So why do businesses spend 25% of their marketing budget with an industry that does not have the knowledge and skills required to solve their digital media problems? Because companies — including media companies- do not understand what digital media is, therefore they do not understand digital content.

So, what is digital media?

There are many answers to this question, but let’s start by looking at digital media in practical terms. If we eliminate the ‘digital’ part of the term, we are left with ‘media.’ So what is ‘media?’ Media means different things to different people. According to the Oxford Dictionary, media is ‘the means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing and the internet). It can also be defined as communicating a message with information to an audience through a medium such as television, digital or print. Consider a magazine. A magazine consists of content such as written articles and photographic stories, plus advertisements, and is printed on bound paper. If the content was eliminated, the ads would also disappear because people only invest in content. Therefore if the magazine has no content, and no ads, would the magazine still be a magazine? No. Because a magazine is only worth the articles and images it contains, otherwise it is just blank paper.

Now let’s consider ‘digital media’. Like a magazine, digital media presented on a website or mobile application consists of written information, images and video. The difference is that the content is presented on a computer screen, rather than paper. Similarly, if the content was eliminated, there would no the ads. If there was no content, and no ads would the digital medium exist? No. Only the code would remain. Digital media requires both content and and technology to operate.

So, what is digital content?

Digital content is a lot more than words and images on a screen. In fact, technology has forced content to evolve through the interactive, and instantaneous qualities of digital. Firstly, the interactive capabilities of digital has transformed what was traditionally words and pictures on a page, into a liveable experience. Secondly, the instantaneous qualities of digital take on broadcast characteristics because content needs to be refreshed for audiences in real time. In most cases, if an individual requires up-to-date information on a product, or emergency, they will visit an organisation’s website, rather than listen to the radio for updates. Because this content is distributed across the web, it is not presented in a tangible format like a magazine, or newspaper. Therefore, content is not a product, it is a service.

Like traditional media, digital media uses a combination of information and technology to communicate a message to an audience. Advertising and editorial content need each other to survive, but their survival depends on knowing the differences between the two. Definitions will vary from person to person, industry to industry, but if businesses can define what digital media means to their organisation, audience and industry, they will be well on their way to digital success.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.