“…by always quoting works out of the context the public forgets that they have a context.” – Theodore Gioia
Theodore Gioia makes a very salient point in this article about the use of classical music in commercial advertising from the Los Angeles Review of Books. Before I journey further into this idea, I encourage you to read the article, which although veers significantly midstream, presents a rather appalling picture of how sound and art are used to create distance rather than understanding. Here’s a brief excerpt:
Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners — specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent.
This particular writing is not to explore the unfortunate use of art as artillery. Instead, I want to focus on the idea Gioia presents near the end of his article–the idea that context matters. In an online kingdom where the monarch seems to be convoluted collections of content, we oft ignore the importance of context, the thing that gives words, phrases, and art meaning. Marketers are notorious for this brand of ignorance. In a quest for relevance and reaction, we tend to overreach, over-exaggerate, and overdo it by chasing most recent bandwagon to pass by or turning historical figures into memes for the sake of making our message worth reading.
All of that is wrong.
Content is only valuable when it is contextualized properly–an act that also elevates the consciousness and understanding of the target audience. I know all the rules. You only have 15 words for a billboard. 5 seconds for a Youtube ad. Etcetera, etcetera. The rules matter. But so does context. In our unending pursuit to inspire action, we should seek to avoid shortcuts, especially those of us who are fortunate enough to support the great work of mission-based organizations. Fortunately, there are a ways we can ensure we are always prepared to present our content in the right context.
Do your homework (and your research). Take the time to understand what you’re writing about and who you’re writing it for. If you’re planning to use a song, image, quote, or anything else in your creative, find out the original meaning and context–and seek to understand what it meant (or means) to your audience. Yes, it will take you extra time, but who wants to be Pepsi?
Embrace longform content. I’ll have to admit I’m biased on this one. I absolutely love longform content, and I get a lot of it from Longform.org. You should check it out. They have a cool story on bears from Atavist Magazine. Reading longform content helps you write better longform content, and writing good longform content allows you to present complete and compelling arguments about whatever it is you want to share. Also, there is a growing desire for stories and articles that delve beneath the surface, present complex narratives, and offer readers–you nailed it–context.
Dare to be different. When we feel like we’re in a competition, we try to do more of what our competitors do or do it faster. But what if everyone’s doing it wrong?And that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for them, but it could be wrong for you or for your clients. Creativity is inspired by what exists in the world. It doesn’t replicate it. And it definitely doesn’t put it into mass production overdrive. Different is cool. And so is context.