100 Editorial Dumps Does Not A Killer Website Make

According to Brian Morrissey at Adweek, brands and their agencies can’t produce enough content for the voracious machine, a fact which is leading them to look outside themselves for answers.

AT&T turned to an outside firm called Associated Content — a startup with a network of 300,000 freelance content creators — to produce over 100 how-to articles. Topics range from setting up a wireless network and building a marketing strategy to writing a business plan. The material will appears on the AT&T Small Business InSite destination.

After looking at the quality of content available on Associated Content, I’m dumbfounded by AT&T’s decision to go this route. For instance, let’s examine–painful as it is–this Associated Content advice on becoming a copywriter.

When writing as an advertising copywriter, it is easy to focus on the facts about your product. You need to make sure that you are writing with a little flair. Also, features can be a vague concept for many readers. They don’t know how to translate that into what it means for them. If you are only writing features, then your readers are missing your point. And if you include some benefits with some features and fail to show how those features translate into benefits, your readers may also be confused.

This wonderful piece of copy comes from a PhD in Theology candidate at Bob Jones University, which is an interesting credential for a copy tutor.
AT&T and other brands may feel under-equipped to fill the content hole. I understand that. Which is why I, and others, keep saying brands are in the media business now.
It’s time to start acting like it. Acting like it means hiring real writers to craft sensible solutions.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. This example reads like how I would imagine the overseas customer service reps would write. It’s as if they’ve hired a bunch of Virtual Assistants to write book reports.

  2. The sea of content the Internet represents has led many businesses to believe that content is cheap. Well it is, but good content cost good money.

  3. Too late, David. Check out craigslist or tap any creative temp service. Content creators are being paid up to $5 per article. The standards have been set. In this economy, it’s easy to find people willing to take anything. 300,000 freelance content creators does not equal one single competent writer.

  4. BTW, David, have you noticed the Google ads that are generated by posts like this?
    Be a High Paid Copywriter
    Start a Lucrative New Career Today Free Report: 50 Copywriting Secrets

    Dude, you’re indirectly contributing to the lowered standards by offering ad space to these folks. 🙂

  5. High Jive,
    I suppose there’s a place on the Web for the $5 article, but that place is not on AT&T’s web site.
    There is clearly a need for professional content on brand sites and elsewhere. Right now, content farms are saying they can meet that need. Whether they can or can’t, I’m saying there’s room for a different model—namely, a media company that looks a lot like an agency.

  6. David,
    I have been involved with Web content and websites for clients as large and larger than AT&T. You would be surprised. It’s all about money and priorities. Despite the mystique surrounding the Web, major advertisers are still at the entry-level stages. Traditional advertising agencies have been slow to figure things out, and the clients are equally slow. Most big clients are traditional advertising clients. Digital duties are delegated to lower-level executives – and they receive below-the-line status (a favorite term of yours).
    You’re right there’s room for a different model. Unfortunately, too many clients are satisfied with the current models. This remains one of the biggest hurdles for the digital field. It has been sold and positioned like direct marketing – it’s fast and cheap and you can measure things instantly. It’s hard to wean a client off the cheap teat when they are satisfied with the $5 articles.

  7. Surprised? No. I’ve seen my share of stupid moves made for expedient reasons.
    The idea that the Web is a better form of direct is like saying the tale is the dog.
    As for client satisfaction, it typically requires consumer satisfaction and I can’t see Google-empowered consumers being too satisfied with content farm smatterings over the long haul. One can’t live on Bugles alone.

  8. Let me clarify a few things, as well as state that all previous comments are just my opinion.
    Did not mean to imply anyone thinks digital is a better form of direct. Rather, digital has been bucketed with below-the-line efforts like direct. Additionally, I’m talking mostly about digital efforts like websites and lame banner advertising. When clients do a significant, branding-style digital effort (e.g., Nike or the types of showcase projects handled by RGA, Droga5, etc.), it’s a whole different story. When a client is producing a website with tons of articles, believe me, the client is not interested themselves in approving/reading all the content. Having pages filled is more important than the content itself. That’s one reason why you can visit these major websites and find content riddled with typos and totally incoherent.
    You said, “…I can’t see Google-empowered consumers being too satisfied with content farm smatterings over the long haul.” You’re right. But most consumers to not go to AT&T’s website for information on the products and services. They go to Consumer Reports and more credible sources. Only the clients of the highest caliber (e.g., Apple) have content people go to first. In this post’s example, would anyone in their right mind go to an AT&T small biz site for advice about copywriting? You’ll learn far more by visiting AdPulp, no? These clients view their content as making a net impression. Plus, they are too cheap, and forcing too aggressive timelines, to think about asking, say, Bogusky to write an article on copywriting. Plus, he’d charge too much. They can satisfy their needs at $5.