Is this Us? A practical Guide to Ugly Content

Written by Daniel Southwell on October 19, 2021

Sweatpants vs Dinner Clothes

You probably own some comfy clothes and some fancy clothes, but you probably don’t wear them interchangeably.

That’s how Josh and Donye Taylor help us understand “ugly content,” a term Donye uses for the less polished, more informal content brands put out.

Whether you’re at an agency or doing in-house content this is a distinction that’s important for marketers to understand,. Because one kind of content isn’t better than the other. They just serve different functions. 

Content is the same way. The ads you put on tv or streaming platforms are probably different from the ads you share on your social. And that’s how it should be. Different types of content are good at different things.

“Ugly content,” being less formal and more like the content people see online from their friends, is great at connecting a brand with humans in a natural, human way. 

When to Get Ugly

Today, most brands do best with a mixture of polished and ugly content. This raises the question: when is it ok for content to be less formal? How often can you get ugly?

And the answer is: there’s no right or wrong balance of ugly to pretty content. The media has to match the message.

If a brand ambassador is speaking from the heart about what a new product means to them, go ugly. If the brand is releasing hype shots showing the features of the new product, chances are you’ll want to keep the content pretty. 

Sometimes a message needs to take time, to perfect, to make beautiful. Most big ad campaigns are that way. But some messaging can’t wait that long. That’s another time to turn to ugly content – when you need to speak to something today

Whatever you’re trying to share, remember that how you communicate isn’t separate from what you communicate. 

All About Ugly Content

“Ugly content” is different from polished content. But the same questions apply.

Is this worth someone’s time?

Is it honest? Are you pretending the brand is something that it isn’t?

If you can make it through those questions, what you’re sharing – ugly or pretty – isn’t just content for content’s sake. It’s something worth sharing, something that will connect with people. Maybe not all the people, all the time, but if you’re being genuine, the right people will notice, and that’s enough to sustain a brand.

The key is naturalism. Pretty content is well-crafted, calculated, and precise. Ugly content is more vulnerable. There’s no artifice, just straight-shooting and glimpses behind the curtain.

You don’t have to overthink it. That’s the point. Ugly content is anything the brand feels excited about, or feels strongly about. It’s anything that, in the moment, feels worth pulling out a phone and mentioning.

But it’s not haphazard. Good things happen deliberately, and ugly content isn’t an exception. Good ugly content comes from the habit of being prepared, and eager, to share. It comes from going about your business with an audience in mind, always ready to connect with the people who care about the brand.

Connection comes from caring about the people who follow the brand and wanting to speak directly to them.

Like anything worthwhile, building an ugly-content presence starts with small steps.

So start by setting a goal. One post a day. One a week. Whatever it is. 

Try different things. Show some behind-the-scenes. Speak from the heart. Respond to customers. Learn what other truths and causes your audience stands for, and address them. Whatever it is that feels like your brand.

Setting a goal will sharpen your senses for how to connect. 

A brand that speaks to its audience, and goes about the rest of its work knowing that connection has to happen, will be successful. Whether that success looks like an evening dress or sweatpants doesn’t really matter.