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The Demise of the Soap Opera: Lessons for Content Marketing

If content marketing is so great, how come brands don’t produce soap operas anymore?

Soap operas are still immensely popular, and brands have heritage in producing soap operas – indeed they can claim ownership of the genre; the first soap operas were so-called because they were produced by detergent manufacturers who needed fodder around which they could place advertising.  

But brands no longer produce soap operas – on Friday 17 September 2010 Procter & Gamble, a pioneer of early soap operas, pulled the plug on its last soap opera production “As The World Turns” (1956-2010), and announced this heralded the end of its soap opera era.  P&G still owns its own production company – P&G Entertainment; but the productions listed are now mostly defunct.  Likewise for Glass & a Half Full Productions, the production company for Mondelēz’ brand Cadbury’s. Of course, Red Bull Media House is alive and kicking, but along with Michelin Maps & Guides, it is the exception. So why when the marketing world is saying that the future of marketing lies in content production and publishing as well as advertising – have brands given up on soap operas?

The answer is two-fold.  First, they don’t need to – there is an entertainment industry specialising in content production. Of course, it wasn’t always this way.  Back in the 1930s, the first soap operas emerged because there was a dearth of content to advertise around. Without content, radio networks couldn’t attract audiences needed to sell advertising space.  So the advertisers stepped in to produce content themselves.  But today, there is no dearth of professionally produced content, so there is no reason why brand manufacturers should to moonlight as publishing houses or production studios.

Secondly, producing entertainment is not a core competence for  consumer goods manufacturers.  It’s far more efficient for most brands to advertise around great content, place products in great content, or even sponsor great content than it is to produce great content.  So advertise around great content, yes; place you products in great content, yes; sponsor great content, yes.  But produce your own content, maybe not.  That’s what publishing houses and production studios are for.


Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.