Context is to chicken as content is to egg

August 18, 2008 at 10:54 am 1 comment

Inspired by a blog post on Toad Stool by my former colleague Alan Wolk, I want to say a couple of things about the phenomenon of ad people and experience designers discussing content vs context.

Back in the day (2000 or so), digital agencies preached to clients that their brands have to deliver more than messages. This was true then and is even more true now. The solution back then? Content (often referred to as “storytelling”). Now, we all know that that is not always true. Content in the wrong framing, just doesn’t deliver. I know because we built websites (Alan too) for FMCGs, trying to create experience for target audiences that resembled MTV. Now we know it doesn’t always work. Enters “context”, the new player. Context, meaning where people are in what mindset with what goals in mind is the thing now. Well, kind of a no-brainer. But pure context? You still need the right story in the right context. But the thing is, you don’t always start with the story and then look for the right context. Sometimes you get the right idea because you understand people’s context. So I find the whole debate a bit silly.

Point is it is chicken or egg, all over again. The fact is you can’t have a yummy chicken cutlet without both, can you? Forget what comes first. When these debates continue while trying to find out which one is more important, I feel you’re not gonna have that chicken cutlet, meaning, an engaging experience with a great idea behind it. The people that talk about storytelling are usually the traditional creatives because it all comes from a “big idea” and the people who say “context is king now” are usually the experience designer folks from digital agencies. The biggest problem these parties have had since 1995 is that they were fighting a belief war on chickens or eggs. It’s time to stop that on both fronts, and those agencies who have changed their agency operating model to such that it can stop, win. When you get these guys together and start with a strategy that includes traditional AND experience insights, you have a better chance of creating what both parties actually signed up to deliver.

The example debate:


Entry filed under: design, Experience, humankind, Insights & Strategy, opinion.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alan Wolk  |  August 20, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out Alex. I agree with your chicken cutlet analogy. Things are rarely, if ever, black and white- they’re usually shades of grey. Certain brands/projects will need to rely more heavily on content and others more heavily on context– it’s a continuum. We need to start by looking at what we want to accomplish and what we want people to do/believe/walk away with.

    Though I suspect the debate will continue for quite some time.


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