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Format vs. Content or Format = Content?

What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form. - David Ogilvy

I think it’s time to put some of the genius (I really mean genius) David Ogilvy thoughts to the test. Well, kinda.

Back in a day everyone used limited number of ad formats: audio (radio), video (TV), still image (print, outdoor), coupons etc. Considering that there was a limited number of formats, creative content was the king. Everyone had to follow same rules, since all players (no matter which industry) had the same format limitations. Advantage in communication was gained from the most creative messages (content) and number of channels used (reach). The best content communicated product advantages better than competitors, creative messages attracted users’ attention better.


Don’t get me wrong, content is still king. It is as true as ever before. But one thing is different. Now the boundaries between content and form are disappearing. Now the form is becoming content too. Great example could be The Arby’s 13-Hour Smokehouse Brisket 13-Hour Commercial. This commercial is one example of how brands are using formats do deliver their messages. Just make a 13-hour video of how Arby’s smoke their meets. And this is totally cool, because this is how brands take full advantage of the possibilities formats give. So in this case, is it format or content?

Another example could be AT&T campaign Pets Talking. They had a really awesome content, but also allowed users to create their own talking pets. So again, this is content or format?

OK, so you think this is possible only in digital? Let’s take a print ad example. Nivea distributed print ads with integrated wristbands that tracked sun activity levels and notified moms (or dads) when your children had enough sun.


One of the grey zones is format usage that users don’t feel directly (like Arby’s did with 13-hour commercial). For example, Cheerios could use day-parting on GDN or Facebook and throughout the day talk with moms about the daily habits of their children. In the morning, they would greet moms reminding them that Cheerios is the best option for healthy morning meal. By noon, they would urge moms to think what their children are eating right now at school. By evening, they would remind moms to get all family together and talk about their day. Of course, what people see is content, but the format possibilities pay a crucial role here. Actually while knowing exactly when and where moms will see their ads, the example brand Cheerios would decide what messages to show. So, what’s more powerful here Content or format? I think the answer is equal.


While thinking of brand's communication strategies and activations, most marketers should think of a partnership. No, not partnership, but convergence between formats and messages. How their product messages depend on the formats they use? Or vice versa. What kind of format benefits should they use for their specific product.


Everything is becoming content in one way or another. We just have to start giving format the same importance. Why? Because right now you are competing for users’ attention 24/7. Because users are 24/7. You are competing not only with other brands, but also with users’ friends, their favourite bands or TV shows. Key question is this: what kind of content (creative + format) should I provide for the user to choose my brand, instead of Jimmy Fallon short clip. All respect to Jimmy, this is just an example.

Official source of the article image could be found here: http://www.triblio.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Types-of-Content.jpg