At the risk of coming across like a bit of a prat in the first sentence of this article — this summer we at Trailer Park London turned our back on the French Riviera in favour of the California Coast. These are the sacrifices we make. You’re welcome.
Anyway, the point is that I, along with a cohort of my Hollywood-based colleagues from Trailer Park LA, are here at VidCon and not at Cannes. I solemnly swear that my personal obsession with both Mexican and Korean food played absolutely no part in the decision and the fact that I have an extensively researched list of taco-trucks and Koreatown spots lined-up is purely coincidental. Nor does the choice have anything to do with my fast-approaching thirtieth birthday (54 days and counting!) and a desperate attempt to cling on to my youth. Honestly. It’s genuinely a lot more rational than all that.
For me at least, the clue as to why I’m here and not at Cannes is in my job title — I’m a Content Strategist. Note: Content. If you’re looking for the future of content, and particularly what younger audiences are choosing to consume (as opposed to what we’re paying for them to consume) then you won’t go far wrong in coming to VidCon. It’s by far the biggest gathering of digital-first creatives, and their enormous legions of fans, in the world. Importantly too, it was created by creators. Hank and John Green conceived the whole thing back in 2010. And incidentally if you don’t know who Hank and John Greenare then your need for VidCon is borderline terminal and you should book your last minute flight to LA right this very second.
Now, I appreciate the word ‘content’ is somewhat ambiguous, even when applied to ‘digital’ (which I guess is equally ambiguous), but at VidCon every single creator and fan — all 25,000+ of them — will understand exactly what you’re talking about when you talk content. And they don’t mean ads.
A conversation I had with my mate’s son recently brought this into sharp focus for me, (he’s 17 and obviously thinks I’m an idiot btw), even if it is a sample size of one. We were discussing Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner and after both waxing lyrical for 10 minutes about how much we loved it, it occurred to me that while I was calling it a ‘spot’ or an ‘ad’ or a ‘campaign’, he called it a ‘YouTube video’ or just ‘video’ and even (heaven forbid) ‘content’.
Now don’t get me wrong, I struggle with the word content. And it’s in my job title! It’s a horrid word. It suggests that whatever the thing is, it exists only to fill a container. It’s a placeholder word. For occasions when calling something a show or a programme seems too old-hat, when vlog seems a bit too reductive, or video or image or bit of text is too limiting. It’s basically become industry terminology for a thingy. Which is fine. We make lots of thingies for the internet, so a word like content is rather handy. I, for one, don’t want to change my job title to Thingy Strategist. And it’s that flexibility that makes the term so appealing for independent creators of the ilk that we’ll see speaking at VidCon this week.
But I suspect that many in the more traditional world of advertising, indeed many of those lovely folk currently quaffing rosé in Cannes, dread the word. Either because they look down on it or because they live in fear of someone asking them what it actually is. But for younger audiences it’s common parlance. It’s the word they use to describe the thingies on the internet that they like or hate, but ultimately, watch. I used to baulk anytime I saw a creator say something like ‘subscribe for more great content’, but I get it now. I don’t like it, but I get it.
These creators need a broad, flexible and loose term to describe their creative output because, from their perspective, it can be anything they want it to be. When it comes to the stuff they make, they don’t think in terms of ‘30 second spots ‘— they think ‘as long as it needs to be’. They don’t think ‘how will we find the audience?’ — they think ‘how will the audience find it?’. They don’t think about ‘how can we reversion for multiple platforms?’ — they think ‘what platform makes sense for this idea?’
Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ — ad or content?
This is the big point for me when it comes to younger audiences compared to the Cannes-set. Cannes see ‘content’ as the added value stuff from an ad-campaign. Younger audiences see ads as inferior to content — only when an ad is really really good, as LDNR was, does it move into the realms of content. Only when it becomes an opt-in experience does it move into the world of genuinely valued viewership amongst Gen Z. And ultimately, this is why we’re here at VidCon and not at Cannes.
One of the most common things I find with our clients is that they are always striving to engage younger audiences in a more genuine and authentic way — they are moving (or indeed have already moved) from a platform-centric approach to a truly audience-first model. And where better to learn about these audiences than spending a few days amongst twenty-thousand of them?
So for me, picking VidCon over Cannes was a no-brainer.