Content that stands the test of time

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Some programs and magazines endure the test of time and become part of our culture – one of our Melbourne account directors reflects on why his favourite BBC audio series continues to deliver the goods.

Scott Elmslie

Being an expat one of the things I miss the most about the UK, besides family and friends, of course, is the BBC. The diverse range of content across multiple channels has been the cultural backbone to my life, providing entertainment, education and inspiration.

The BBC has given me many things over the years, including a love of music, an understanding of current affairs and classic British comedies. But there are two other institutions that have stuck with me all my life: Match of the Day – for my love of football (or soccer as you incorrectly call it here) – and the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs.

The premise of Desert Island Discs is that each week a guest is ‘castaway’ onto a desert island. They’re allowed to bring eight songs with them, as well as a book and a luxury item. Through the 45-minute show they explain the significance these songs have to them, which leads to a rich and often emotional conversational journey.

What’s remarkable is that the show has been on air for 75 years, delivering more than 3000 shows, with only four different presenters, using the exact same format and theme tune. No one had ever felt the need to play with this. In fact the only difference is how it’s delivered. Previously you had to turn your dial to Radio 4 but now, in the digital age, it’s available as a podcast. Even better, the BBC has released almost the full archive, which you can listen to from anywhere in the world. This creates a whole new audience.

Why has Desert Island Discs had such longevity?

A man holding a vinyl record

It delivers on its promise with a clear narrative structure. The guest provides their personal story, interspersed with a musical insight into their life, with the same weekly conclusion of them being left on the island. These are authentic stories, well told and often very emotional. 

It’s also kept constantly relevant. The guests appeal to listeners who have tuned in for decades and younger audience who wants to hear Ed Sheeran or Matt Smith’s choices.

In a frantically paced world of binge watching and immediate media gratification, there isn’t the same level of longevity anymore. In the future, will there be an institution like this that runs almost weekly for 75+ years? Even if there is, it will have a long way to go to catch Desert Island Discs. Every week the program continues to cast another guest off to the island.

What does this show us as content marketers? Simply give your audience what they want, make it authentic, valued, treasured and relevant and be consistent with your message and delivery.

Here are some of my favourite Desert Island Discs guests:

Keith Richards (musician)
Kathy Burke (actor)
Morrissey (musician)
Tom Hanks (actor)
Noel Gallagher (musician)

Scott Elmslie, account director