Content May Be King, But The Medium Is The Message

In Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 media studies classic “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”. McLuhan’s demonstrated how content is framed by the medium in which it is displayed. So for example, “Will you marry me?” written on a dirty cocktail napkin will garner a different reaction than when “Will you marry me?” is displayed on the jumbotron.

Marketers believe in the idea that content is king, and tend to invest heavily in developing great content. But what they sometimes forget is that the packaging and framing is as important as the content itself.

Great medium, bad content

Here’s an example of a presentation where there has been a great deal of attention paid to the medium, but that is totally devoid of content (or rather, the content has been entirely replaced by “chicken”). What’s important to note is that despite lacking content, the presentation still conveys meaning via the medium (a typical powerpoint presentation) and the context (an academic conference):

Great content, bad medium

craigslist design


On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have, a website notable for not having undergone any major design changes since it launched in 1996. By any measure, the site’s design is hideous, and if were to launch today, it would probably be mistaken for one of those spammy domain name websites. Yet because Craigslist is so good at providing quality content to its visitors, it can get away with its horrendous design.

Tips for improving the medium of your content

Here are some ideas on how to apply McLuhan’s point into your content marketing:

  • A/B test your email templates, not just your subject lines. Test everything from color, to layout, to images used.
  • The help of a graphic designer can take your content to new lengths. Don’t skimp when investing in a designer.
  • Continuously be testing your landing page to improve the design. Try experimenting with different types of content to see what resonates with your visitors.
  • Know that great design can’t make up for crappy content.
  • Similarly, bad design will drag your great content down.
  • Keep up with new design trends by reading blogs like http://wireframes.tumblr.com,,, etc.
  • Changing your design can bring attention to your brand, like when Twitter changed the orientation of the bird in its logo ever so slightly, or when Facebook changed its layout to the timeline and everyone collectively freaked out. If you make a major design change, make sure your audience won’t hate it by market testing it first. is a great (free) tool to get you started.
  • Thought leaders don’t make typos. Ever seen an official Google article or white paper with a typo?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five − 4 =