How content can sell itself

Intrusive ads are annoying. Text100’s Darren Foong explains how creative, informative content can do a better job of selling your brand than any ad can.

Intrusive ads are annoying. Text100’s Darren Foong explains how creative, informative content can do a better job of selling your brand than any ad can.

Do you hate ads? I loathe ads. I run three separate ad-blockers and another plugin that disables videos, just so I won’t have to run into an ad. If it were not for browsing on mobile or the occasional glimpse of a television, I would not be in contact with ads at all.

There are some amazing ads, but the vast majority just get in the way and frustrate. If I’m trying to watch a funny video, I want to laugh now instead of sitting through 90 seconds about the latest laptop – or maybe five seconds before I skip the ad. If I’m reading the news, I shouldn’t have to scroll past iPhones and dresses on sale in between paragraphs about the latest developments.

Ads suck, content shouldn’t

Ads are annoying because they waste my time with unwanted information; because they’re irrelevant; and because they are so desperate to sell me something by any means – often resorting to a blanket bombardment of the senses. Does that sound familiar? I suspect you can empathize and agree with me: ads suck.

Does your content marketing suck? Do you produce content that is too desperate to sell or contains unwanted information? Is your infographic or blog post a thinly-disguised product specification sheet? Is your content worth the time it takes to read it, or is it just a waste of time?

Don’t waste your own time; produce only content worth reading. Stop content pollution – a very real concern, given the amount of content bring generated by brands.

How Content Marketing Can Sill Itself body photo

An adage about sales says: Nobody wants to be sold to; everybody wants to buy. The content piece you’re pushing on social media or newsletters should not focus on selling, but instead on being buyable – your audience and customers are paying with their time and attention, and they want something worth their time in return.

One of my most remarkable experiences with native advertising/sponsored content/product placements was during a horror-themed Escape Room game experience. In one of the rooms, my team and I put on headphones and listened to a recording of a ghost attack, complete with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was all very frightening, but I remember thinking: You can hear every growl, slobber and screech of the ghost; these headphones are amazing! The headphone brand turned out to be a partner of the Escape Room experience, with its logo discreetly but visibly placed in the corner of all collateral material.

The marketing content – a practical product demonstration – was woven seamlessly into the game experience and I never considered refusing, avoiding, or ad-blocking it, unlike aggressive salespeople or ads served in between paragraphs on an online news article.

In a similar way, content marketing succeeds when the content provides value to the reader. Two simple ways to reward the reader are by incorporating information that either informs or entertains. And what better way to illustrate successful examples of content marketing than by sharing two ads – hateful, evil ads – that I sought out and watched. 

Inform: HubSpot regularly provides free toolkits, eBooks, and even tools and services, arguably for the low cost of an email address. However, its blog carefully details techniques for digital marketing teams as well as insights based on expanding its audiences’ knowledge and skills base. All of HubSpot’s free tools and knowledge can be learned and utilized without paying a single cent, and in doing so, the reader is building an association between marketing expertise and HubSpot. Consequently, the reader is also being exposed to several opportunities to be sold into HubSpot’s ecosystem and become a paying customer.

Entertain: The Will It Blend series, created to sell blenders, is a YouTube video series started nine years ago that blends unexpected objects such as crowbars, marbles, and hockey pucks. In recent years, this visually entertaining series has refined the set and included references to pop culture and recent events including selfie sticks, Apple watches, and movies. Embedded in these videos of dangerous science experiments is a humble boast from Blendtec – our blades and motor can blend anything – making it one of the most recognizable blend brands today.

A few weeks ago, Facebook announced a very similar update to News Feed:

“Our research has also shown us that, after friends and family, people have two other strong expectations when they come to News Feed:

  • Your feed should inform. People expect the stories in their feed to be meaningful to them — and we have learned over time that people value stories that they consider informative. […]
  • Your feed should entertain. We’ve also found that people enjoy theirfeeds as a source of entertainment. […]”

Reactions to the changes thus far have been mixed, but initial (if cynical) predictions are that this will reduce the organic reach of posts as well as drive up advertising/marketing costs for brands. What will not change is the importance of creating good content. Brands cannot rely on simply pumping in money to promote sub-par content, nor will an ad spend guarantee visibility or reach. Instead, well-produced content that provides value to readers will gain better engagement and thus greater reach, and really sell itself.

A winning piece of content will lean on either of the two pillars. Does your content inform your target audience, entertain it, or do both? Ask yourself: Are you able to inform, entertain, or do both with your audience? If so, you’ve passed the first test, and your content is useful and will pay for itself and sell itself. Otherwise, no thanks – it’s not worth looking at.


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