How to Beat Content Shock

2014 was a big year.

Felipe VI became the King of Spain in June, and Pope Paul VI was beatified in September. Scotland voted to remain part of the UK, and India landed on Mars. One World Trade Center opened in New York. Mount Ontake erupted in Japan.

2014 was also the year a marketing consultant named Mark Schaefer coined the term content shock, and predicted a time in the not-too-distant future when the sheer number of posts, videos, emails and articles would overwhelm our natural ability to consume them.

(With respect to Mark, he didn’t see TikTok coming. None of us did.)

Now, over 328 million terabytes of data are generated each day, compared with just 1,400 neurons. Our brains are being flooded — inundated. They have no choice but to ramp up security at the border, which increases the demands on your marketing team to cut through the noise.

Attention is goal-oriented

Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, says the internet was designed to capitalise on how people think. We respond, on a fundamental level, to novelty, excitement and social connection. We recall 80% of what we see, 20% of what we read and 10% of what we hear, so it’s no surprise that most businesses invest in video ads.

It’s easy to forget that YouTube, in 2005, was the home of home movies. By the decade’s end, ads had been enabled and resolutions had evolved from 480p to 4K. Terms like YouTuber and content creator entered the cultural zeitgeist. Over time, YouTube has become a sound stage for musicians, a theatre for filmmakers and a cash cow for big-name brands with deep pockets, but the golden rule still applies: great content always rises to the top.

Funny is smart

If you want to be memorable, be funny. That’s the advice from last year’s World Happiness Report, which found 90% of consumers tend to remember ads which make them laugh. 69% are more inclined to open an email if the subject line is funny, but this is easier said than done. In fact, it can be downright tricky.

Humour in advertising needs a purpose, otherwise it’s just a punchline. You should have a story to tell — a reason to buy your product or service.

In November 2022, thousands of voices around the world cried out in anger when the Ticketmaster page for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour crashed. That same day, McDonald’s tweeted: “It’s easier to order snack wraps than it is to get these tickets.” Snack wraps were part of a limited edition menu which was phased out in 2015, and fans had been campaigning for their return ever since. The comedic tweet resulted in over 400 reposts.

Openness is important

If you can’t be funny — and there are plenty of businesses and organisations that can’t, due to the nature of their services — then our advice is to be yourself.

We’re living in the age of authentic marketing, a time when deep and meaningful connections outrank promotions and rewards. And you can’t fake authenticity, adds Lisa Cox, a San Francisco-based brand strategist and designer: “So go all in and be vulnerable.”

Be transparent about what goes into your products. Pull back the curtain on your operations. Tell us who you are, what you believe in and why. Once your audience starts to feel like they can relate to you, they’ll sit up and pay attention.

If you’re posting on social media, why not…

Use short-form video.

For its 2023 Consumer Trends survey, HubSpot collected data from over 600 consumers across four generations: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers. Every group, with the exception of the Baby Boomers, chose video as the preferred method of communication when engaging with brands on social media.

Build an online community.

The same survey found that Gen X and Baby Boomers regularly engage with online pages and groups, but that’s not to say you can’t cultivate a similar sense of belonging among Gen Z and Millennials by including them in the conversation. Say you’re a beauty brand. Let’s pretend you’re getting ready to launch a new range of concealers. Ahead of the big day, you might sponsor a post on Instagram which reads: “It’s long-wear, easy to apply and won’t dry out your skin. What is it? Click to find out.”

If you’re sending an email, remember to…

Keep it short and sweet.

A recent Slack poll found that 57% of employees in the UK and USA will stop reading an email after the eighth line, at which point it is deemed to be too long. Outside of an eye-grabbing subject line, we recommend shorter sentences, bullet points and a strong call to action.

Add a P.S.

It’s the email equivalent of “by the way” and its uses are many. You can reiterate a call to action, or promote a seasonal offer. Show off your sense of humour, or seal the deal with a testimonial. There’s a scientific reason the P.S. is so effective — our brains have a difficult relationship with self-control, which explains why so many of us flip to the end of a book — but perhaps there’s an emotional one, too. A temporary state that goes by the name of “pervasive apprehension” but which most of us recognise as FOMO.

To read the 2022 World Happiness Report in full, click here.

To discuss how your business can communicate its message effectively, get in touch.

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