Content marketing or Infinite monkey theorem

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.


That’s what has come to mind from the controversy over Dan Lyon’s exposé of working at HubSpot and the proliferation of so-called “content marketing” or “brand journalism” or “lovable content” or “bulls**t” generating firms.  Despite the oft-times misleading claims, what they do is not journalism, not storytelling, and not news.

It’s garbage in, garbage out, in my view, and all in the context of old-style tactics of “push” promotion and selling … where a message or agenda is pushed out to join the already cluttered and noisy competitive environment. Monkeys are not hired but rather millennials, some straight out of college … or, in many cases, outsourced people in some invisible sweatshop in India or parts unknown who are working for pennies.

Workers at HubSpot.

Workers at HubSpot.

I have found that audiences are bombarded by overwhelming digital noise or garbage.  Many people  are getting savvier, more particular and more discerning.  Audiences can – consciously or unconsciously – sense phony from authentic.  I will leave marketing to the marketers and focus on the captivating appeal of storytelling and legitimate journalism, real news.

Stories unite people.  Good stories figuratively have legs and can travel because they are shared … told and retold. They are believable. Storytelling is in the genes and cultures of people around the world, it’s part of who we are. Accurate and factual storytelling is a pillar of journalism, the news business.  It seems as if that’s been lost in the frenetic rush to grab profits or to be cool and sensational in today’s digital culture.

There’s growing awareness among marketing and communications professionals at corporations and organizations over the engaging power and influence of creating their own news.  The engaging storytelling qualities of legitimate news cuts through competitive clutter.

Yet, mainstream media has been whittled to the bone by layoffs and closings.  Buildings that once housed newspapers are being torn down or repurposed.  TV news has been reduced to covering car wrecks and house fires.

If you want your story told, you must learn how to tell it yourself in words, images and video, using the authentic style and tenets of news storytelling.  But … that is not content marketing.

The stuff that’s cranked out by hundreds of mostly young people – many of whom are neither experienced nor aware of the craft of journalism or storytelling – is like a dead fish wrapped in old paper.  Lyons describes it as another form of spam.

Imagine standing on a crowded digital soapbox, waving your arms and shouting amid a large crowd, without caring about results or attention.  That’s content marketing or lovable content schemes.  On the other hand, content marketing might get more attention by having monkeys bang sticks on metal garbage can lids.  Heck, that’d be fun to see.