Mining Britain’s National Coal Board for content marketing inspiration

Think content marketing is a modern trend? Think again. These films promoting coal mining in the 1970s show the timeless nature of engaging content

People will always need coal.

So reads the final frame of this 30-second film made by Britain’s National Coal Board in 1975. The recruitment drive was on for more miners and the board had hit upon a way to drum up more interest.

Seventy years ago, in 1947, the National Coal Board set up a specialist film unit. Between its foundation and closure in 1984, it produced reams of films – 900 were either sponsored or produced. Such as this one, entitled Become a miner and live the dream:

In-house vs. commissioning the experts

Clearly in its final line about the long-term nature of the fuel, the National Coal Board was laughably short sighted. But standing the test of time was hardly the aim of the venture. Beyond the enjoyably kitsch value of the films, there is real ambition at play in terms of the content.

As a general rule, the NCB made half of the films themselves in house and the other half were commissioned out to existing film companies. One such company was Data Film Productions which included cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky – later to work on Oscar-winning film The Bespoke Overcoat, as well as Get Carter and Entertaining Mr Sloane.

Like all good content marketers, the NCB knew when to bring in the experts. The films were shown in cinemas each month and the NCB rightly saw the value in bringing in talented moviemakers.

Aspirational value

The film doesn’t show too much digging, dirt and darkness. Instead, it focuses on an aspirational view of the industry based around glamorous women, squash, skiing and swimming.

To put it mildly, the film isn’t overloaded with subtlety and the gender politics no longer pass muster. But the idea of promoting aspiration through content is one that still remains relevant for today’s content marketers. The NCB saw the difficulty in promoting the day-to-day realities of life in the mines (as well as the presumably complex technical problems of filming underground) and instead focused on the sense of community fostered between miners.

A concise, vibrant tone

There is also a valuable lesson to be learned from the video in terms of length and tone. A 30-second blast manages to bring in multiple photos and seven clips of community-led activities – cut together in short, sharp fashion. Update the imagery and you’d swear this was a social media edit.

The tailor-made music is nothing if not upbeat. Synth squelches and disco strings swirl while the singers proclaim: “Hey there, miner. Live a life the way you want to be. Come on now, miner. There’s money, lots of money and security.” Content Desk recently looked at how to improve the music in your content marketing. This NCB film leads us to ponder more: jingles are somewhat out of fashion… but, if for nothing other than retro value, should they be?

Back in the 1970s, the National Coal Board decided that producing high quality video content was the best way to spread its message – pushing it out to the widest possible audience and concentrating on building a community by engaging a specific demographic. Doesn’t this all sound familiar? Coal supplies may be depleted but the concepts behind the NCB’s output are still burning brightly.

by James Sullivan. Contact him here.

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