Content Gifts are the new ads because there are well documented principles of gift giving that make this an effective form of value exchange. A content gift is some information or entertainment that a brand provides to a consumer in exchange for earning the right and engagement to issue a call to action. Ideally the “content gift” is shareable and relates in a non heavy handed way to the call to action. Calls to action in the absence of a content gift are unearned and unlikely to be shared, or result in action.
Content Gifts work because of the principle of reciprocity. There have been countless behavioral studies showing that when someone receives and values a gift, they feel obligated to return some value. In the case of content gifts, when a reader receives one, he feels obligated to reciprocate with the gift of his attention to the call to action. This interplay, is no slam dunk. The content gift needs to be deemed of some value by the recipient. If the content is uninteresting or bad, of low value, then the recipient will feel no need reciprocate with attention. In some cases, a scenario of competitive gift giving can arise, whereby recipients seek to outmatch the gift he or she received. Really good content, should garner more attention and consideration of the call to action.
The applicability of reciprocity to advertising seems so natural that it’s surprising that the inverse, calls to action in the absence of gifts, has permeated brand advertising for so long. This inverse seems to most evident in print and display advertising. (Television/video seems to have made some good, if sporadic, strides in content gifts over the past 50 to 60 years.) I believe that content gifting as a model will increasingly become the preference of leading companies over display advertising for the purposes of branding, not direct response, over the next few years. I think this will happen as quickly as we saw freemium overtake “charging everyone” as the preferred model for web services.