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Rise of the content zombie

Challenges facing brands in the feeding frenzy of the on-demand content consuming apocalypse
With The Walking Dead TV series being all the rage, the gruesome image of what's known as 'walkers' (AKA zombies) tearing someone's stomach open has been top of my mind for a while. When considering the way we consume content, I couldn't help but think that there is actually no difference between our content consuming habits and that of a "walker".

Zombies starve when they have no human flesh to feed off of, causing the little neurological lights flickering in their reptilian brains to switch off. In similar vein, welcome to the on-demand content culture where people are as good as dead when they have nothing to watch or listen to, and want more and more new and creative content to feel alive.

Chris Ruen defines these (often illegal) behaviours of the content-starved living dead as 'Freeloading' in his book, How Our Insatiable Hunger for Free Content Starves Creativity. According to him the digital age has presented us with an online-is-offline-is-online experience economy that paradoxically feeds and fuels the desire for the free (or low cost) and the 'me'.

Give them blood

First came Google and soon we were 'googling', then came Twitter and we started tweeting. Now introducing the generation of 'Netflixing', a verb that has come to describe the act of watching any TV show, movie, documentary via instant streaming.

In South Africa, the YouTube search for '2013 full movies' grew 3150% in the last 12 months according to Google's Rising Trends. Music, however, still dominated the top of the YouTube charts, with movies coming in a close second. Patience is dead and the only thing going viral is the ferocious hunger and need for more, right now.

Social constructivists believe that technology does not determine human action, but rather human action shapes technology. While wearable technology is being birthed, and maybe too expensive for the average South African millennial, we are in fact already wearing technology in the form of our mobile devices, Wi-Fi, and the content locked within. It's also no secret when it comes to Millennials that they want to look trendy for less. This translates into the way they use digital media ranging from Free App Friday on iTunes, to showing loyalty to brands that give them free Wi-Fi to tuning in.

Consequently artists have started measuring the 'Freeloading' phenomenon and have adapted their selling techniques accordingly. South African band, Death by Misadventure has offered free music downloads on their site since their launch in hopes of locking in new music fans while Jeremy Loops uses Sound Cloud as his primary social channel, allowing fans to listen online and even download for free. Internationally, Lady Gaga has gone as far as to create her own social network, Little Monsters, to measure what fans want, and creating a full mobile and desktop multimedia experience for the launch of her album, Art Pop.

Infectious content or rotting meat?

Elections 2014 saw me ditching my TV series and being locked into the News 24 Election App. Brilliantly, the app showed South Africa highlighted in the colour of the party in the lead, in real time on a national, provincial, metro and local level. News was pushed to your mobile the second it was published and the app united South Africans through the functionality to upload their 'thumbsies' (a selfie of their inked thumbs) and citizen news from the queues. The content consuming zombies like me were absolutely delighted by this kind of real time election transparency.

At the 2013 Social Media Landscape briefing, a term 'butternut soup content' was coined in response to a major retail brand having the most retweets because it asked followers to retweet if they liked their soup. This, along with recent sentiment pertaining to the branded selfie bandwagon, was frowned upon as lazy content, and even Facebook agrees! Brands seen as begging for likes, comments and shares will be penalised in reach by the recent Facebook algorithm changes. This in conjunction with the greater need for media and the 20% Text Rule on that media, means the content honeymoon is over. Brands need to start satisfying the hunger, the network and brand objectives in a creative way.

Because of this the need for an agency should actually be increasing, despite the trend of going in-house. Dedicated resources, experienced in creating rich 'infectious' content will be needed in order for brands to make quality content in the quantities the zombies demand. Instead of brands complaining about the social media algorithm changes and the freeloading culture, they should be embracing it. For this very reason the Loerie Awards have introduced branded content as a category this year.

In the meantime personal bloggers, like Caspar Lee and Cobus Potgieter, will continue to beat the brands' behinds in YouTube subscribers and video views if brands don't adapt now. Brands cannot complain about 'Freeloading' because their content plans have been curating already existing works since the big social media bang. This goes for the use of freeware social media analytics as well. The honeymoon is over and the time has come to make quality content in an addictive form that will give rise to the farming and understanding of their Zombie community's habits and needs, allowing the brand to become innovative and adaptive in these hungry times ahead.


About Donovan White

Humorous, witty and with a constant smile, the only way to work is to do it right, with positive energy and love for life. Strategist at NATIVE VML

NATIVE VML's press office

NATIVE VML is a digitally-led full-service marketing agency that strives to forge deep relationships between its clients and their customers.