Are you religious, traveler? Perhaps superstitious? Do you believe in The Monarchy?
Like all things I bring to light, I’m not actually referring to The One True God or Gods™, deities, or The Royal Crown. There’s a saying in the digital marketing and advertisement field that “Content is king, but context is god”. What exactly is the difference? Is this distinction necessary outside marketing?
Kings and Gods
While used broadly, the word “content” has four entries in the Merriam-Webster dictionary — one of which is “the principal substance (such as written matter, illustrations, or music) offered by a website”. Bill Gates presents a similar definition in his essay, “Content is King”, but likens its meaning to “material that’s both publishable and distributable”.
Yet there’s an even simpler definition. Gary Vaynerchuk describes content as anything “posted” — the likes of Snapchat stories, Instagram photos, and blog entries. In adding a definition, Vaynerchuk also provided an addendum to Gates’s phrase: “Content is king, but context is God”.
What’s this new variable, and what’s the difference?
In Episode 8 of his Youtube “show”, Vaynerchuk tells us. We’ve established that “content” is anything posted, but “context” equals engagement.
“I’m going to ask a ‘Question of the Day’ today,” Vaynerchuk explains, “and […] I’m gonna go into the comments and reply to some of those answers, creating context”.
In this sense, Vaynerchuk calls for the creation of a scenario, a situation. This scenario involves mutual engagement, which builds rapport, and thereby establishes credibility of your product, brand; what have you. Your brand can push content on social and through email until the Internet crumbles, but without trust and awareness (and this contextual relationship with an audience), your content is meaningless.
Hence why context is God.
Context gives meaning to the content you produce.
Vaynerchuk’s blog post by the same title provides yet another meaning of context: “environment.” His first tip on context is to “respect the platform,” or the environment in which your content appears. He also encourages you to respect the audience, but the key here is to respect the psychology that surrounds the platform itself. “I know [that] on Pinterest,” Vaynerchuk illustrates, “[a forty-year-old woman] has intent to shop and on Facebook she’s keeping up with her world”. Identifying the psychology around your content’s environment and respecting it is one of the pillars of a successful marketing campaign. Stellar as your content may be, an ad for an article has no place on Pinterest — nor does a “DIY” guide belong on a Facebook timeline.
Let’s return to context as a form of engagement. SocialPlanner.io writer Desere Davis also mentions how “context is the circumstance in which your audience will see the content – the setting that gives it a meaning” (“Content is King – Why You Still Need Great Content in 2021”). Davis provides a handful of examples on the importance of content, but explains that context provides meaning — and expands on how to build that context. Social media influencing, a trendy (yet vapid, in my opinion) vocation borne from the 21st century’s obsession with connection, is heavily utilized by companies:
- Kendall Jenner handing out Pepsi cans.
- Nick Offerman (read: Ron Swanson) sipping Lagavulin.
- Terry Crews working at Amazon for a [half] day.
- Devin Graham slip-and-slide parachuting off the side of a cliff… to showcase a Subaru Impreza.
You get the idea. Fancy figures and headline names peddling products so that we can generate revenue for the capitalist machine.
Native ads are another example of digital marketing and its context necessity. Here’s how product marketer Kylee Lessard describes native ads:
“As an advertisement that fits seamlessly into the user experience, they’re more contextual than other forms of digital advertising (e.g. display and banner ads).”
I don’t think I could’ve better nailed content’s relationship to context. These are the “Sponsored” Instagram photos and “Promoted” LinkedIn posts that look almost like they belong, but make you fixate for that extra moment as you realize you’ve been targeted. If you’ve moved to double-tap, you’re already too late. You’ve clicked the ad, and now you’re a metric; an impression, a clickthrough. Context has fooled you, and you’ve played right into the digital marketeer’s hands.
…vs. Everything Else
Content is to advertisement what context is to transactions. It’s always been this way, whether people realize it or not; Gates himself equates revenue from Internet content to broadcasting. “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet,” he writes in his essay, “just as it was in broadcasting” (emphasis mine). Broadcasts and radio shows are just elder methods of spreading information and selling products — which are content and context, respectively. You wouldn’t expect to hear your favorite sports announcer rattling off about the amazing properties of a newfangled beard balm, right? Nor would you want him to.
Even older than radio commercials are newspaper ads, and newspaper ads have been around forever. Local papers have local ads, right? This is a prime example of context playing God. How pissed would you be if your local paper promoted restaurants and stores 45 minutes away from your town? I’d be pissed. I nearly screamed the other day when trying to order something online just to find out they wouldn’t ship two items to me.
“These items are not available for delivery to your location” Victoria’s Secret told me before asking me to remove my matching pajama set. Then why do you so them as “in stock” if I can’t order them? Hm??
I’m sure Gary V would have something to say about my experience.
(Well, actually… he does. And it’s to “not interrupt the user’s experience”. Too bad I don’t peruse enough social media platforms to engage with ads and be affected by them. My trusty AdGuard also helps with that.)
Do Your Worst, Ads — It Won’t Work on Me (Kinda)
Not interrupting the user’s experience is incredibly important for targeting and engaging with potential consumers, but I wish there was more respect towards the consumers themselves.
Everyone wants to be paid attention to. To be engaged with.
And companies everywhere will do anything for The Dollar™. They’re not above selling out or pandering to cheap trends — and they’re certainly not above free labor and exposure. Maybe we’d engage more with these companies if they were more respectful, but I guess that’s too tall an order. I’m also speaking for the minority considering thousands and millions and billions of people interact with companies and products on a daily, even hourly basis. I truly am a digital marketer’s worst nightmare. Ironic that I am one.
I wish I could further underscore the importance of context in digital media, but the only social media platform I peruse is Twitter… and I’ve curated my feed enough (by muting entire accounts) that I’m no longer bombarded with ads. Working in digital marketing has made me quite literally immune to advertisement. I see an ad, I ignore it. Ad campaigns rarely work on me. I am truly my own worst nightmare.
I can tell you, however, that if I dosee another Eversource or Credit Karma “Free Gas Hack” commercial while I’m trying to watch a Sm117y video on my Apple TV, I’m going to lose my shit.