Ideas that work in content: challenge conventions

by on 19th January 2016

Trying to understand what makes content “work” on the Internet is a fascinating process. Why does a piece of content resonate with people at scale, when another does not?

So far, we’ve looked at an introduction to Content Marketing, a guide on using Reddit for content ideation and research and finally, we’ve looked at ideas that work in content: describing and visualising notions of scale, nostalgia and ideas that challenge common conventions.

Today, I’d like to look at another common theme behind successful pieces of content. Content that challenges everyday conventions.


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Ideas That Work in Content: Identifying or Challenging Every Day Conventions

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting examples of content that challenge everyday convention. It’s amazing how well people respond to content that identifies activities or commonly accepted themes that we barely think about. Social conventions, especially.

What is the Meaning of “Social Convention?

A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms, or criteria, often taking the form of a custom.

Social conventions are those arbitrary rules and norms governing the countless behaviours all of us engage in every day without necessarily thinking about them, from shaking hands when greeting someone to driving on the right side of the road. Source

Daily activities like shaking hands with a business colleague or less frequently; bowing to our peers or curtseying to a member of the Royal family are all social conventions we accept.

We rarely, if ever, question them.

It’s the realisation of this point that makes the subject of conventional thinking really interesting.

Why do we shake hands? Have you actually thought about this?

Questioning the behaviours so deeply routed into our day to day lives is, I would argue, fascinating. This is why the notion of challenging familiar convention or explaining the unfamiliar seems to work in content marketing.


During our research, it’s very easy to find examples of content that examines some sort of social convention. Companies in the travel industry tend to use this approach frequently. This eating etiquette guide, originally published by Co-Operative Travel, appeared on the front page of Reddit.

Kyoto is a very carefully cared for city, with traditions best researched prior to travel (credit).

Kyoto is a very carefully cared for city, with traditions best researched prior to travel (credit).

Akimahen, or “do nots” in Kyoto examines all of the likely ways a foreign tourist might break with accepted convention, with clear instruction to avoid these cultural faux pas. Ideas like this can be summarised and packaged as international etiquette, like we once did in Swissotel’s etiquette guide (still driving traffic many years after its inception).

The notion of social convention gives us a broad platform upon which to develop upon. This thread on Reddit discusses a guide to lane swimming etiquette, an ideal and quick source of inspiration as part of a content strategy for the fitness and lifestyle industry.

Exploring Linguistic Conventions

A linguistic convention is a principle or norm that has been adopted by a person or linguistic community about how to use, and therefore what the meaning is, of a specific term. Source

Language provides the very basis of historical cultural development and differentiation. Activities and sayings are uniquely baked into cultural traditions which are highly particular to a specific location or group.


A tradition, steeped in history and completely accepted to one might seem alien, surprising and entirely fascinating to another.

It’s fun to drill down to linguistic conventions established by particular groups of people in particular locations at a particular time.

You can compare linguistic conventions between countries:

“Isn’t she a cracker?” would have been considered an endearing, complimentary term in the United Kingdom, meaning “a ​person or thing that is very good or has a ​special ​exciting ​quality” but would be considered highly derogatory in the Southern States of the US.

Let me tell you from experience. You can get yourself into pretty difficult, hole digging moments in foreign, English-speaking countries when you’re not equipped with a guide to the local lexicon.

There’s an idea in there somewhere.

Other Types of Convention

There are many other forms of convention which I’d prefer not to explore here. Nevertheless, they most definitely exist in the accepted norms of everyday behaviour.

  • Political
  • Moral
  • Ethical
  • Religious

I’d say with some confidence that as a content marketer, you might want to steer clear of these and let the academics continue their work in peace.


Let’s look at a few examples of useful sites for research and content that applies this approach as the basis of their work.

LessWrong – community written blog, looking at the intersection of statistics and applied psychology then applying it to religious and cultural values. The site has spawned a book and conference series. – a wonderful identifier of interesting conventions to identify, challenge or explain. I frequently see articles from this site appearing in my daily social stream. It’s just reassuring this site exists. The editors clearly aren’t afraid to tackle the more challenging concepts like religion and politics. Take a look.

From Why Procrastinators Procrastinate on

From Why Procrastinators Procrastinate on

XKCD, has now brought about a brilliant book that deconstructs things using only the most common 1000 words. My favourite, “Exploits of a Mom” presents Little Bobby Tables as a risk of SQL injection personified.

Logical fallacies – as the site states:

A logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning. Logical fallacies are like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians, false thought leaders and the media to fool people. Don’t be fooled! This website has been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head.

They have a great poster which, if you’d like to increase your debating / arguing abilities, will come in handy.

Did you know that an ad campaign invented the engagement ring? An ad campaign laid the foundations for one of the most common social norms there is in Western society:


In a similar vein, it was an ad campaign that invented halitosis and simultaneously established it a severe social no no.

What’s in your supplements? – surprisingly, not always what you expected…


In our next post, we’ll be looking at another theme that works in content: nostalgia. In the meantime, feel free to share your examples in the comments below!


  1. Finally, more people are starting to get what makes successful content ring on the internet. And realizing and rewarding this is why blogs like Medium seem filled with this kind of resonating content.

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