Do you need a psychic octopus to help you with your content marketing?

Could your marketing benefit from some supernatural sea life?

Football fever is sweeping Europe but among the punditry and predictions there is one notable absence. Paul the psychic octopus. Where is Paul (and what light can he cast on the science and art of content marketing)?

Paul’s absence is simply explained by the fact that he died in 2010. He rose to fame in 2008 when his keepers at the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, asked him to predict* whether the German national team would win their Euro 2008 games. Paul had a 75% success rate for that competition and a staggering 100% for the 2010 World Cup.

Paul’s prediction that Spain would beat Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup almost caused an international incident. There were death threats from German fans who suggested that Paul be cooked and eaten. Spanish Prime Minister José Zapatero responded by offering to send Paul official state protection. Paul’s prediction was correct and Germany was knocked out.

Criticism did not only come from home fans. President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, accused him of being a symbol of Western decadence and decay.

Paul’s fame grew from a low-level publicity stunt by a German aquarium. The fact that he became a global star is down to three factors: originality, timing and need. And this is where content marketers can learn a thing or two.

Timing content around key events is an obvious tactic. There will have been hundreds of thousands of press releases tied to the Euro 2008. Timing was important but was not the key.

The originality of Paul the psychic octopus is clear. No-one had taken this approach before and the world’s media were desperate for a new and different approach.

Need is harder to interpret and explain. Was there a need for an aquatic creature who could allegedly predict the future? Possibly not. But was there a need for editors to fill column inches, and more importantly, for global readers to be entertained and given a topic that could be debated and discussed with anyone from school children to heads of state?

Paul took football competitions beyond sporting fans and opened these events to the masses. The content created around Paul and these events was huge and eagerly consumed.

Find your own content octopus

So, how do we get some of Paul’s magic into our content strategies? It’s tempting to copy such originality but as The Daily Mirror states, this is rarely successful:

Every time a major football tournament swings around, out come the pet enthusiasts with their fortune telling creatures.

All we hear is, “Fortune telling penguin predicts…” or “George the giraffe thinks Germany…” and none of them ever live up to the bill.

To be truly creative you need the time and space to let your imagination take flight. It’s not going to happen in a 30-minute weekly marketing catch-up. You need a culture where off-the-wall suggestions can be made without the fear of ridicule or raised eyebrows. And you need a big enough pool of people to maximise your chances of hitting on something truly original and effective.

Get a little extra help

Of course there are agencies and individuals who are specialists at thinking creatively. If you feel you don’t have quite the right culture or chemistry in-house then consider calling for external expertise. A hybrid approach, where a professional creative works with you to surface and develop your own team’s ideas, can be effective.

It’s all too easy to get stuck in a content marketing rut, producing the same sort of thing, month after month. If you start finding your output predictable then your customer will too.

Psychic octopi are not the answer to all content marketing challenges. There is, of course, a need for more regular forms of content. But even though Paul is no longer with us, let his spirit creep into your campaigns from time to time – I predict you’ll be delighted with the results.


*Here’s how Paul predicted: Two food containers were placed in Paul’s tank, marked with the national flag of the competing teams. Paul indicated his choice by eating from that container first.

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