A recent article by Marketing Magazine interviewed Red Bee Media to understand the difference between content and advertising. It was actually difficult for most recipients to provide an accurate distinction.
One said ads sell while content tells a story. This is inaccurate because good advertising does tell a story. For example, in a Sears commercial, you can see how the lives of people are enhanced by air conditioning in about 30 seconds. At the beginning of the commercial they’re sweating and miserable, by the end they’re smiling and no longer look like they just got out of a pool.
Another response deemed ads as intrusive while content is chosen. There is issue with this distinction as well because, while an ad may be intrusive, no one needs to pay attention. You may choose to ignore the car salesperson screaming, but your interest is suddenly piqued when the newest awkward Geico commercial comes on. Is that not choosing to watch? Quite frankly, I’ve seen ads that were so entertaining that I actively sought them on YouTube and watched them again. They’re still promoting the products, so I think the masses would consider it an advertisement.
“Content” that doesn’t sell anything can be intrusive too. Online, we see a link with clickbait title and we click, only to regret that decision 15 seconds later. The world is becoming all too familiar with the concept of clickbait, and it is dying. It is interesting to consider that these non-promotional articles are actually less desirable to many consumers than a funny commercial with Bounty paper towels being waved in front of their faces for two and a half minutes.
The fact of the matter is that we need to stop thinking that advertising and content marketing are two completely different things. The goal is, and always has been, to create content that people will seek out of their own volition, read or watch, enjoy and share.