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Marketing content – the worst of both worlds.

Marketing content is the fusion of advertising and unsponsored mass communication. In theory, it combines the best of both worlds. In reality, it’s a stinky potion of the worst. There are a number of reasons why. In this article, I cover trust.


Early in my media career, I was programme assistant to the Head of Short Stories at BBC Radio 4. Within months of getting the job, she made me responsible for sifting through unsolicited submissions. Inside a year she invited me to select, edit, produce and direct selected scripts. She gave me a little guidance, then let me get on with it.

One of the stories I produced was about an embittered ex-girlfriend who set fire to her ex’s flat… not realising he was locked inside. The BBC received two complaints from listeners. I was tasked with responding to them personally. No damage was done to the BBC. In fact, I’d contributed to the breadth of its output.

Sponsored content

Now imagine that’s sponsored content. A senior person and their junior assistant making audio content heard by millions? No additional oversight. No casting intervention. No cost controllers. Etc.

This can’t happen in the world of marketing content. There’s the agency team – creatives, producers, planners and others – all ‘contributing’. All knocking sharp corners off a sculpture until it’s a characterless sphere.

And then there’s the client – an upward cascade of marketing professionals who insist on changes that make the content even blander. Polish the sphere. Nobody wants to take a risk. Nobody wants failure attributed to their name. They’re terrified of a ‘listener’s letter’ scenario.


Trust doesn’t show on the balance sheet. The benefit of trust doesn’t jump from an email trail. You can’t explain why it’s vital. It’s intangible. So how can you argue for its inclusion?

Louis Armstrong came up with the best answer when asked to define the rhythmic concept of ‘swing’. “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” For a more recent example – study the phenomenally successful ‘Frozen’. Anti-hero prince, Broadway singer lead voice (rather than Hollywood pick), cold-hearted main character. I’ll wager the Frozen team was made up of individuals that were trusted and trusted one another.

Trust works in above-the-line advertising because a handful of high-profile people (advertising, client and media) can work together to produce something great. They trust one another. And they’re senior enough to reject broad interference.

Trust works in unsponsored mass communications such as broadcasting and journalism. Budgets force teams to be small. Without trust, nothing gets made.

Nobody ever built a statue to a committee

But in marketing content you have the worst of both worlds: big enough budgets to allow mass interference, and an absence of trust. So marketing content is shaped by committees of people who don’t trust one another. That’s a recipe for the blandest dish ever made. And after it’s been served, the committees reconvene to analyse why the intended audience didn’t lap it up. Or even show.

And because they can’t put a finger on it, the committees add more processes and contributors, or change the team. So next time around it’s even less likely trust will emerge. And another polished stone sphere is sculpted. To pile up with the rest.

I’ve worked journalism (BBC), programme-making (BBC and independent) and advertising (BBH). Now, like many ex-advertisers, broadcasters and journalists, I work in marketing content (BBS*).

*Bloody Boring Shit

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Gothic Reflections 2

The first novella in my Gothic Nightmares series ‘Gothic Reflections‘ is now available as an ebook worldwide.

If this novella is well received, I plan to write more. Each will be about a 2 hour read and priced around £1/$1.50.

They’ll keep coming as long as they’re enjoyed.

Please do post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

The next will be called, ‘The net of Destiny’.

Telling tales

I was asked for advice on how to captivate an audience with an oral story.

One thing to know about stories… people want them. Stories are the catapults that propelled us to terrestrial mastery. We’re not the strongest or hardiest animals. But we can tell stories. We began by describing how tools helped us in difficult situations. And how we floored the hairy-arsed mammoth. We’ve always hungered for relevant narratives.

Stories are hard-wired into our psyches. We live off them, thrive on them, dine out on them. But if you want people to listen – you need to tell them well. For tips, rhetoric is the perfect place to start. Rhetoric describes the things that captivate an audience.

Political scriptwriters use rhetoric. Martin Luther King demonstrated it extensively in his, “I have a dream” speech. Hollywood scriptwriters use it for heroes. Stand-up comics use it for laughs.

The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle divided rhetoric into three parts: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is the speaker’s character. Will the audience listen? Pathos is a list of devices that create an emotional impact. And logos is a well-constructed narrative.

Sound a bit highbrow? It’s just understanding how to move people. And that’s what storytelling’s for. Whether it’s making people laugh, smile or remember you. Rhetoric does that. Be someone others want to listen to. Use tricks to play with their emotions. Construct a narrative they can follow.

Study of rhetoric offers helpful devices. Repetition – create a theme, bring it back. Changes of pace. The power of three, “live off them, thrive on them, dine out on them”. Recurring themes. (Hairy arses.) Comedy. Imagery. And never forget poetry. Imaginative language is what separates the cold soup bore from the sizzling steak storyteller.

Steve Jobs asked someone, “Who is the most powerful man in the world”. He answered, “The President of the United States”. Steve Jobs replied, “No. The storyteller”.

New Smashwords profile

I grew up in South Wales near Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey. And I’ve been writing creative material since single figures – since building dens under trees Wordsworth reposed beneath. (Saying that, don’t most of us write creative material when we’re in single figures?)

‘The Titans’ is my first novel. Written in 1991, I published it as an ebook in 2013. It’s free to download from most sites.

‘My Goat Ate Its Own Legs’ is a collection of short stories. It was published in the UK in 2008, US in 2009 and [hopefully] will appear in translation in France in 2014.

‘Fedw’ is a collection of poems scrawled in blood and tears in a tatty notebook over 25 years. It is now available as an ebook. For free.

‘A damaged boy’ is my second collection of short fiction. It contains two novellas: ‘Liftless’ and ‘The Great Unloved’.

‘Outstared by a Bullfrog’ is my second novel. It’s triply. And edgy.

Please post a review of any of by work. Good or bad – I would love to know what you think.


Alex Burrett

Literary reviewers wanted for an extraordinary novel

‘Outstared by a Bullfrog’ is, according to one 5-star reviewer, “a meandering love story embedded in marbled layers between astral projections of dozens of other stories”.

Do you hunger for something new?

If you’re fed up of run-of-the-mill, formulaic fiction – email to receive a coupon to download this ebook for free.

All I ask is that you post a review – on Goodreads or wherever you like to share your opinion.

(Usual price $3.80 / £2.50 / €3.10. Promotion ends 31 January 2014.)