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Something of Substance

Can you describe the word substantive in a sentence? Not define, but describe. It’s tough to nail down, right? How about this: something you grab as your house is burning down.

What does that make you think of?

In the next few paragraphs, we’ll explore what substance is made of with the end goal of helping you create substantive, therefor successful content.


Simplicity is the first step to creating something (and content) of substance. Again, consider what you’d grab if your house was burning down. These are items of value to you, be it monetary or emotional. From jewelry to old photographs, books, records, etc. They all have a simple, yet powerful meaning to you. They make you feel uncomplicated, strong emotions- the same way quality content should.

To stick with our theme of simplicity, we’re going back to the basics for examples of it- print ads. Prints are some of the toughest pieces of advertising to get right and are very similar to single pieces of digital content. But when they succeed, the root of the idea is almost always, simple.

Which ad makes you feel the most?

By: Simone Mascagni

Promoting World Alzheimer's Day

By: McCann

Simplicity for Yamaha

Both are centered around simplicity, the second is even titled ‘Simplicity’, however its core idea isn’t simple enough to create a real impact. The Alzheimer’s ad makes the viewer feel the cause that it’s supporting, whereas the second lacks raw, simple emotion.

Speaking of, that brings us to the next step towards substantive content.


Once you’ve shaved down a big idea to reflect its simplest, most vital components, it’s time to focus on what emotion it’s going to evoke from its audience. Does it make them happy? Sad? Contemplative? Angry? Humans are riddled with emotions, so it’s important to determine which one they’ll instantly feel when they see your content and exemplify it as much as possible.

For example, here are two classic ads that push very different, but equally as memorable, emotions.

1) How can a milk ad be emotional? Well, to a generation bred on Cookie Monster, it makes you yearn for comfort and milk.

2) Who would dare to call their car a “Lemon”? VW did and made us laugh and fantasize about that funny little ride.


Take a moment to think about some of the most iconic, memorable movies of all time. When I did so, films like Shawshank Redemption, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Next and Schindler’s List came to mind. What do all these flicks have in common? They are disruptive. They shake things up and force viewers to confront issues that are often uncomfortable to look in the face. But by doing so, they also made themselves impossible to forget.

They are also some of the first of their kind. Meaning that substance is often centered around experimentation. There’s no risk of failure as long as you’re not afraid to learn from it and keep trying.

To wrap up, great substance is simple, emotional, and disruptive. But it is never, ever predictable.

Don’t let them see it coming. They’ll love you for it.

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