Let me paint you a picture.
Two naked men stand at the mouth of a cave. One is holding a live goat, the other, a dog. Each man kills his respective “pet” and then paints the other’s forehead with the blood. Then, the two men cut the goat’s skin into strips and dip each strip in the blood of both animals. Finally, they head to town, where they playfully slap delighted women with the bloody skin.
This odd ritual was called Lupercalia, and is, by many historians’ estimations, the origin of everyone’s favorite holiday: Valentine’s Day.
The connection between Lupercalia and what we now celebrate as Valentine’s Day is not hard to make. Lupercalia was a fertility festival of sorts (find me a Pagan holiday that’s not about fertility). Babies=love=boxes of chocolate—you get the picture.
You can make the argument that Lupercalia, through repurposing by the Catholic Church and rerepurposing by strict and hyper-moral British monarchs, evolved into Valentine’s Day without much thematic degradation.
You could also make the argument that getting flogged by blood-soaked goatskin is the least romantic proposition imaginable. Times have changed.
It doesn’t matter which argument you accept. The thematic connection worked and has survived for centuries—just ask your favorite restaurant if you can get a reservation for February 14th.
Themes matter, regardless if people can identify them on the surface level.
They’re evocative. And guiding someone to reach an emotional conclusion in her head is far more effective than simply saying, “Feel this way now.”
This is how humans process external information. We all know it. We’ve read so much about it (some would say, “too much”).
Faced with this reality, I would love to ask all you creatives, clients, and random readers out there, why does so much marketing content fail to capitalize on themes and subtext?
Why does so much content suck?
In the first draft, I ended this post with the above question. I thought it would start a conversation. Our CEO, John Common (who hates to be called “Our CEO”), said that it read as if I had thrown down the microphone after a poetry jam.
I didn’t even know what a poetry jam was, so I had to look it up. I have since added it to the ever-growing list of things I never want to experience in my life. [Editor’s note: C’mon Theo. It’s very freeing, and you’d kill it.]
So instead of throwing the mic, I’m going to attempt to answer my question, in hopes that you all will vehemently disagree, and we can get the conversation started.
A note to regular readers: I wrote a similar list in a past article called Is Content Marketing Dead? This is a reimagining of that list.
Top Five Reasons Why Content Sucks:
1. It has no thematic connective tissue – You have to write about more than the problem and solution. You have to make a connection to a greater issue, one that strikes an emotional chord with readers. And, no, I don’t mean infomercialesque “There’s got to be a better way!!??!” nonsense.
2. It lacks an opinion – Don’t bother being objective. Believe in what you’re writing about or take up knitting. Disinterest is a novel approach to hearing both sides of a debate, but it’s not an argumentative strategy. And that’s really what content is doing, arguing on behalf of a solution.
3. It lacks expertise – A few weeks ago, someone told me that the new health care law sets up a panel that decides, case-by-case, if you can receive the medical treatment you need based on how much the procedure will cost. When I replied, “That is categorically incorrect,” he said, “It’s true. I read all about it.” He had a source. He read it on a site that looked reputable. He was categorically incorrect. Sadly, this is about the amount of research many people do before they A.) develop their opinions and B.) start sharing those opinions online. It’s not limited to wanna-be pundits. It’s a serious problem that inbound marketers need to address.
4. It’s the product of a committee – When you attempt to make everyone in the room happy, you end up with a meaningless collage of safe, ineffectual garbage. If you, like many writers, have committee oversight, it’s your job to put your foot down and explain that the purpose of content is to engage (and, depending on where it exists in the funnel, possibly convert). If group feedback results in ineffective content, you need to speak up—because guess who they’ll blame when it fails?
5. It’s informed by marketer-written, “write this way” crap – Stop putting so much stock in content about content. I realize that this is a difficult argument to make in a blog post about content. Instead of reconciling this issue, I’m simply going to address that my hypocrisy exists and open up the forum for questions and comments.
What do you think? Why does so much content suck? And what do you do to fight it?