February 26, 2016

Auteur theory, Instagram influencers and content marketing

This isn’t an article discussing the newest development in sponsored content – although I am excited to see this go as far as sponsored films. Instead, I will be briefly diverting from the marketing industry and borrow terminology and theory to, hopefully, provide a further understanding of this thing we call content marketing.

As a budding film buff with a keen interest in critical theory (film, literary or otherwise) I can’t help but see connections between the auteur theory and long-standing theories of authorial intent transferred onto content marketing practices and the new era of the personal brand.  Auteur theory originated from French practices in early film history; it places the ultimate quality of a film in the hands of its director, rather than its production company. It suggests that a movie is an artwork in a similar fashion to paintings or novels – it is influenced by others certainly, but ultimately it belongs to the auteur (author). Think David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino.


This may seem like an odd application of the theory, particularly when I am talking about brand management and marketing of companies, but bear with me.

One of the prominent theorists Andrew Sarris suggests a framework of understanding for identifying auteurs in his book Notes on Auteur Theory. The framework falls under the following categories:

  1. Technical competence
  2. Distinguishable personality
  3. Interior meaning

While I am not suggesting every writer, Facebook user or business owner should be elevated to the status of ‘auteur’ these principles can be applied to effective content marketing practice – particularly for brands that hinge on people, which is most small businesses.

Technical competence

Clearly, technical competence is a necessary and self-explanatory aspect of creating effective campaigns. It requires skilful technique, understanding of the tools and the ability to execute visions. This makes up a fair amount of a content marketing campaign. Everyone can produce content but not everyone can produce valuable content.

Distinguishable personality

The interesting correlations come with the second category: distinguishable personality. I want to argue that in the same manner that auteur theory celebrates the film director’s distinguishable personality; we (content marketers and business owners) must invariably imprint ourselves in every piece of content and every product we create.

This can be interpreted in a couple of ways. Firstly, the company’s consistent voice. This consistent impression can be recognized in industry terms as the brand’s voice, methodology, mission statement, and the like. Done well, no matter who writes the content, the voice of the brand will be strong enough that it sounds like it is all from the same author. The author here is the brand as a whole.

The most successful campaigns are the ones with a distinct voice of the company. And no one does this better than the faces of personal brands. Think the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus, Oprah and the like. Instagram influencers fall into this category too.

A recent study of Australian Instagram accounts reveals that the accounts with the most followers and follower interaction fell firmly on the shoulders of Instagram influencers. The number one account belonged to fitness mogul Kayla Itsines. This statistic hints that personal connection is as important as good lighting and framing when considering who to scroll through on your lunch break. The Kayla brand is so clearly directed by Kayla herself that every piece of information, every Insta post, blog article and extension of the brand seems like one long conversation with Kayla herself.


An alternative approach is the people who make up your brand. Audiences respond to real people. We can see evidence of this with the success of live streaming and tech apps like Snapchat and Periscope. There is also a considerable following of people behind brands, including the designers behind clothing brands, writers and contributors, and company CEOs with handles like @name_brand. While these are personal accounts, followers are drawn to them for a more personal reflection and extension of the brands they love.

Kayla Itsines fits into these two approaches at the same time. A lot of her content is written and created by herself, which makes her brand compelling to her audience and promotes engagement. However, she does have a marketing agency to help her out, which is understandable and necessary for a brand of her size. Yet, you would never know what is written by Kayla or her marketing team as the voice is so consistent throughout.

Interior meaning

At the risk of butchering the artistic philosophy that reflexively rejects commercialized ideology, I’d argue that all good marketing will include an interior meaning or motive because it is inherently storytelling. Even 25 character tweets tell a story about your brand and every piece of content that is produced adds to a growing body of work that shares who your company is and what you do. The internet always remembers!

Authentic content

One of the reasons auteurs have such an impact and cult followings is that they are reminiscent of earlier French artisan production houses that are in stark opposition to the highly commercialized companies that generally dominate the market today. Films that come out of auteurs are works of art against mass produced template formula films.

If you are trying to assimilate content based on what you think your audience will like it will most likely fall flat as it won’t come across as very authentic. Think parents trying to use words like hipster, YOLO and FOMO to connect with their kids, chances are they are doing it wrong. Audiences, including teenagers, love authenticity.

When you know your brand and your audience, creating authentic content that seamlessly assimilates into your audience’s culture won’t be difficult. It will come from a real place of knowing instead of something you are trying on because it is the latest trend.

Content marketing can be simple but effective. Audiences respond to authentic, personal brands that resonate with them. Content marketing simply harnesses this natural tendency and amplifies it by producing and sharing valuable words, images, films, podcasts, tweets, posts; you get the point.

What now?

Think this means the burden of continually producing content for your audience lands firmly on your shoulders? You are the ‘auteur’ of your company after all.

Thankfully the answer is no! Just because you add your personal voice to your content, while important, doesn’t automatically guarantee its value. Know your strengths. A content marketer will be able to harness your authenticity and voice to create content valuable to your audience and have the expert understanding of where to disseminate it. Saving you time and producing the results you are chasing for your business.

In saying this, you’re not completely in the clear. Publicising your own social media accounts and being active in live streaming business personality will only add to your marketing campaign.

If you need help for your marketing direction or want to know how to implement effective content marketing strategies – contact Surf Pacific today.