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Content marketing and the 1968 Mexico Olympics: a lesson to be learned


On 19th October 1968, spectators at the Estadio Olimpico in Mexico City witnessed a sporting revolution. Dick Fosbury, an enormously tall American from Portland approached the bar, set at 2.03m, for his first high jump. And did something that the majority of viewers had never seen before.

The legend is well known. Dick Fosbury had pioneered his own technique of leaping backwards over the bar, which came to be almost universally adopted by high jumpers over the next few years. The technique enabled Fosbury to win a gold medal that year but, more importantly, it changed the sport forever.

This story is important to us as content marketers because it reminds us that any advantage is usually only temporary. And we should bear this in mind when we hear complaints of “content saturation”, “content blindness” or “content shock”.


The Dick Fosbury of 2002

In the same way that Fosbury revolutionized high-jumping, a few prescient marketers began revolutionizing the world of marketing in the early 2000s. The innovation this time though was technology. Early web and digital technology enabled anyone to become a publisher. Publishing is an enormously powerful tool. Propagandists, story tellers and folk heroes down the ages will tell you that the ability to inform the masses gives you enormous influence – which usually brings with it enormous power and money.

So when the first bloggers began to publish without the need to pay for a printing press, a logistics network and a recognized brand, they were starting a revolution. Some of them began to win over an audience. They became well known. They became powerful. And many became rich.


The arrival of “content shock”

Fast forward to 2015 and everyone knows about the power of content marketing. And that’s the problem. As Doug Kessler neatly puts it, the “biggest threat to content marketing is content marketing”. The innovators have been copied (and ever-improving technology has made it ever easier to do so) and there are now thousands doing the same thing. The early advantage has been lost.

But this was to be expected. After all, does every innovation not go through the following stages?

  • • Innovation – someone thinks up a new way of doing things
  • • Imitation – others copy it
  • • Saturation  – so many people copy it that the original advantage disappears

  • And so it has happened with content marketing. We should therefore understand that we are not changing the world any more. We are not Dick Fosbury at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. We are Dick Fosbury circa 1974, when the rest of the world has copied our idea and we have to find other ways to compete. Fosbury simply had to be better, fitter, taller, stronger. He had to rely on other athletic attributes because the original idea was no longer a differentiator.


Time to compete

And so it is with us in the content marketing world. “Content shock” should not be a shock at all, but the natural consequence of the original content marketing innovation. And we should get used to it, and get used to the idea of competing on a level playing field again. In order to communicate with our target audiences, we simply have to be smarter, more creative, or more agile (or indeed, simply spend more money).

Content marketing is still effective – and ignoring it would be like a modern high-jumper resorting to earlier techniques. Content marketing works, but the early advantage has gone, and we simply have to apply ourselves to competing just as we have always done.

As a high-jumper might say, we simply need to get over it.




Image courtesy of Sergio Rodriguez via Creative Commons