Maddie Cullen
11 April 2018

Way back at the beginning of 2014, marketing strategist Mark Schaefer wrote what is now considered a seminal blog post on content marketing.

In it, he coined the phrase content shock. A tipping point, after which there is simply too much content online for our tiny minds to be able to process. It won’t be profitable or feasible for businesses to produce content of the same quality at the same rate.

Schaefer said that content shock was just around the corner. That was in 2014. So what has the effect of his epiphany been on branded content in the last four years?

Tellingly, Schaefer also wrote that:

“companies competing for limited consumer attention means more choice and better content”

Social Media

If his crystal ball was in full working order, he might have worded this as “quality over quantity”. It’s taken a while, but we’re beginning to see it now.

So, quality is more important than ever, but what works and what doesn’t? A few tried and tested forms of content have proven to be highly effective in a post content-shock world. We’ve broken them down to look at why they work so well.


Educational content is one of the best examples of quality content. It offers consumers something of real value. Two thirds of consumers actually prefer content that informs or educates over ones that just to entertain. This suggests that people want brands to be masters of relevant skills. A brand selling herbs and spices should publish recipes, a sports brand should deliver workout guides or nutritional information.

One good example is Barclay’s ‘Life Skills’ programme. Life Skills aims to help young people develop everything they need to enter work. It provides free resources for teachers and CV tips and tricks that really aim to support people. It has its own dedicated website full of information and opportunities. This is an incredibly useful resource and a lot of work went into setting it up. Not all brands have the means to create such an extensive piece of work, but they can learn from it.

Barclays Branded Content               (Image: Barclays Life Skills)

Life Skills also fits into what Barclays offers as a brand. As a bank, they’re involved in the entirety of people’s lives (if a consumer is loyal) and one major part is growing up and getting a job. It’s the kind of time a lot of people are setting up bank accounts as well. So, showing that they’re knowledgeable and helpful through the content they produce is encouraging to young people and their parents.

The ‘Milestones Videos’ we created recently for Kiddylicious are another example of a brand becoming a teacher. As a baby and toddler food brand, they wanted to create videos that were truly beneficial to parents and show that they’re experts in the field of helping youngsters develop. They focus on what nutrition is important at which stages of a child’s development, and of course link it to which of their products are best suited.

Milestones Videos Educational Content

Educational content can come in all different forms, but it should always add value to a consumer’s life and be relevant to the brand. There’s no use trying to tell customers how to change a tyre if they’re a fizzy drink brand. They could, however, provide some recipes that fans of the brand have made. The key is to keep it relevant to the consumer base. Otherwise it won’t seem educational but rather out of place.


One type of content that is always popular is humour. It doesn’t all have to be cats doing stupid things to catch people’s attention (it does help though). Humour can be created a number of ways, but it’s best when it seems human and genuine to the brand.

A perfect example is Spotify. Good friends laugh at each other and Spotify’s 2016 campaign made people feel like they were really in on the joke.

Spotify Branded Content                (Image: The Drum)

‘Thanks, 2016. It’s been weird’ featured statistics of what listeners were doing on the streaming service. From one person listening to a Justin Bieber song 42 times on Valentines to calling out someone who started listening to Christmas tunes in July, Spotify had some great ones to share. They even added comments that fit perfectly, such as ‘You really jingle all the way, huh?’.

The content made people the main focus. Who knew laughing at your consumers’ weird habits would go down so well?

Absolut Vodka recently released a video that sparked a lot of laughs too. Set up as an induction to new staff, it features Absolut workers with nothing on. We’re taken on a tour of the factory and everyone in it is completely naked, with pixelation the only thing keeping it under 18.

When something is truly funny it can create its own buzz, which is why quality content is so important. Absolut definitely got their message across as the ‘Vodka with nothing to hide’ and in doing so they undoubtedly picked up some new fans.


Inspirational content can usually make a big impact on a lot of people, but only when done well. Things that inspire speak to a lot of people over a varied demographic, so it’s good for brands looking to reach a range of people.

We all like to have a positive reminder now and again, but when done wrong it can come across as inauthentic and even insulting. Brands need to make sure that what they’re saying relates to their message and the company itself. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, a company’s actions need to back up what the brand is promoting.

Always, the feminine hygiene brand, created some really good content that struck a chord with men and women of all ages. As a company that sells period products, that is a serious feat.

Always Social Media               (Image: Marketing News Thinking Awards)

Their #LikeAGirl video showed various people acting out what it means to do things ‘like a girl’. From running to throwing, it highlighted the negative way we portray being feminine. It then showed young girls who didn’t have the same preconceived view as to what it means to do something ‘like a girl’.

With feminism gaining huge ground in the last few years, it worked really well and helped to inspire people to rethink what they say and how they say it.

We couldn’t have this section without mentioning Channel 4’s ‘Super Human’. The idea was first used to promote the 2016 Paralympic Games and then made into a short film celebrating people with disabilities doing all kinds of things from playing in bands to raising children. It had a great impact with loads of people saying it made disability an easier topic to talk about, meaning it did much more than just promote Channel 4.

Inspirational content is done best when it lets the issue do the talking, not the product. It’ll go viral if there’s a serious message people want to share. The brand should still be related to the content, but it needs to do more than just say how good Channel 4 is to watch shows, for example.

Wow Factor

Making people gasp or catch their breath can rack up millions of hits – when done right, of course. It’s much harder to really wow people now. With so much content around, we’ve been desensitized. However, some brands have consistently managed to produce work that makes people stop and stare.

Red Bull are probably one of the best brands at creating this kind of thing. Their whole message is about how their drink gives you the ability to do things you couldn’t normally do. So naturally their content reflects it.

The most famous example is the Red Bull Stratos Jump, in which Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound whilst jumping from the stratosphere and broke multiple records in the process. The momentous occasion was streamed on Red Bull’s YouTube channel and 8 million people watched it live. The brand garnered 7 million engagements via social media as well. It drew people in because it was a one of a kind experience.

Red Bull Video Content                (Image: Digital Synopsis)

Obviously not every brand has the money to pull off something quite this elaborate, but it is a lesson in creating truly unique content.

Volvo pulled off an amazing feat in their ‘Epic Split’ video. In it, Jean-Claude Van Damme balanced between two Volvo lorries with a foot on each as they reversed. It was a mighty impressive stunt and proved how smooth Volvo trucks are to drive.

The video has racked up 88 million views to date. It’s even sparked a host of parody videos – some professional, some just people in their garden. Either way, it wowed people enough that they properly engaged with it. A lot of videos are scrolled past these days, especially with Facebook Autoplay, but Epic Split garnered real interest with people commenting and sharing and even having a go themselves.

The lesson to be learn from ‘wow factor’ content is thinking outside the box. Not everything has to be a direct sales pitch, but Red Bull and Volvo did link it back to their brands nicely. People stop and interact with content that has real value – something they haven’t seen before, something that stands out amongst the mass of other videos and posts.


In our recent piece on how brands need to entertain to reach people, we mentioned giants like Lego who’ve created a loving fan base with hugely popular blockbuster films. That kind of content is far from the budget of most brands, but it is worth thinking about how consumers can interact with the content produced.

French charity Addict Aide created a website with pictures of a Paris apartment, and invited online amateur sleuths to decipher what had happened. People all across the globe took part. At the end of the game users discovered that the apartment was home to an alcoholic and not a vampire or murder scene. It engaged people before releasing the true message of Addict Aide, which shows how well good content can work.

Addict Aide Branded Content               (Image: Adweek)

When given the chance to use their brains and do something different, people are much more likely to opt in. We all like a challenge, especially those of us with a competitive nature.

Canned drink brand Lime-A-Rita also used interactive content particularly well recently. Using their social channels, they invited people to ask advice from three legendary ladies: The Ritas. Their often hilarious and unusual responses meant people loved asking questions just to see what the ladies had to say.

Lime-a-Rita Social Media                 (Image: Webwire)

Interactive content can come in many forms, and can be effective as it gives people the chance to do something more than just read or watch. Two-way conversations are much more likely to keep people interested for longer as well.

Combine and conquer

Sometimes, the route to creating truly quality content is through a combination of the above.

Toyota did this well when they created an Instagram account showing videos mimicking what it’s like for registered blind skier Menna Fitzpatrick to compete in the Winter Paralympic Games.

This brilliant campaign was inspirational, educational and most definitely wowed its audience. Which is probably why so many people shared it and interacted with it. As a result, Toyota’s involvement in the Games felt warm and genuine.

Content shock happened four years ago, but only now is the effect clear enough for for brands to take action. Some may suggest that these ‘content aftershocks’ are a result of Facebook and Snapchat’s recent feed changes. Perhaps this is true.

But we’d like to think that finally, at long last, marketeers are realising that creating content for content’s sake, just to have and maintain a social presence, isn’t the best approach to staying relevant to their audience.

It’s quality over quantity that really counts.

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