Here's a Thought: How About We Create Content That Matters?

The New-Media Age Gives Us Power -- and Responsibilities

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Moses Foster Moses Foster
Greetings to everyone out there under the Big Tent! This is my inaugural blog for Ad Age, and I'm ready to have some fun. I was pleased to see my man Karl Carter is blogging it up in here as well -- now I know why it's so hot under the tent!

I want to talk about three of my favorite things: content, diversity and power. But first, let me frame up the conversation by telling you how I answer when someone asks me what I do for a living.

For people that don't understand our industry at all, I tell them I run an advertising firm (West Cary Group) in Richmond, Virginia. They've at least heard of advertising agencies, even if they don't understand exactly what they do.

For people who are familiar with the business, I say I run an integrated communications firm -- which universally makes them frown and demand more detail. Sometimes I give it to them.

But for the die-hard modern-day marketers -- the new-media faithful if you will -- I tell them I run a content shop. The new-media people get it right away. They know that to market products and services these days, a client may request from us a blog, a web video, a text-message campaign or a widget. And we don't miss a beat. The chief creative officer of my shop and I were doing that long before there was a market for it. Back then we thought we were just strange. Now we're in favor.

There's a lot of power in being able to create content. A friend of mine, Rick Boyko -- managing director of the Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University -- says advertising is popular culture. And he's right. The content we as marketers and advertisers create changes views, builds allegiances, and shapes perceptions on everything from education to finance to the candidates for president of the United States.

Now the stakes for content creation are getting higher and the lines of demarcation are starting to blur. There used to be two major types of content -- publishers' (magazines, television shows, radio programs), and the shorter form of content that intermediated or bookended it (i.e., advertisements). Another way to look at it is there used to be content that was typically believed (publisher content) and content that consistently had to punch through an exoskeleton of skepticism (advertising).

But now it's all converging. We the marketers are also becoming the news publishers, the film producers, the Hollywood writers. The content is becoming longer form and organic. And it's being consumed as much for its ability to educate, inform and entertain as it is for its ability to sell.

So, we've covered content and power -- what about diversity?

Well, for the first time in history, Blacks and other minority groups have unprecedented access in a content movement. We can blog even if our fathers can't get us a job at a hotshot Madison Avenue agency because they don't play golf with the CEO. We can text message our circle of friends even if the media buyer says we don't meet the psychographic profile. And we can start a revolution with alternative news coverage on our websites, even if the banks won't give us a loan for a printing press.

So am I excited about the possibilities? Well, the content landscape is being restructured from beginning to end -- as a marketer and content creator, of course I'm happy. Well, I'm a black marketer. So let me rephrase that. I'm conditionally happy.

I'm happy on the condition that we actively participate in the restructuring. This one's too important, and too attainable to let it pass us by. Everyone who reads this blog can lend a hand in making that happen.

And secondly, I'm happy on the condition that as the potential for our content expands beyond 30 seconds, we not only accept the job, but also the responsibility. That doesn't mean that every piece of content must be a social statement. But as a general rule of thumb, rather than regressing to the mean of stereotypes, denigration and insensitivity that we've seen and occasionally participated in for years, let's use the opportunity we have before us to create content that challenges, uplifts and enlightens. In other words, let's create content that matters.

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Moses Foster is president-CEO of the West Cary Group, Richmond, Va. Read more in the bio section.
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