BCON wrap: seven lessons on branded content

From how to work with The Onion to how to get your content shared, here are a few key takeaways from yesterday's event.

The day after strategy and Playback‘s BCON Expo 2015, we break down the most important lessons for marketers looking to take on branded content in new, relevant and entertaining ways.

1. Link your branded content to TV and publishing (if you like having your stuff shared)

Activity on social networks has more than doubled. It’s gone from eight billion interactions in 2013 to 17.8 billion in 2014, Gian Fulgoni, chairman and co-founder of comScore, shared during his keynote talk that unmasked the mystery behind metrics. What’s more interesting is that of all the sharing that’s taking place online, content around publishing and TV shows accounts for 90% of Facebook shares (in fact, sharing about TV shows alone has grown 207% since early 2013). So if you want your brand to be front-and-centre in conversations among audiences, link your branded content to TV and publishing, says Fulgoni.

_MG_5879_smSome other stats and facts from Fulgoni:

- Videos are three times more effective in engaging an audience than simple text-based ads.

- Canada ranks third in the world’s video consumption (the U.S. is first and the U.K. second) with 25 million viewers. But the country has the highest video reach, with 90% of the web population in Canada viewing videos.

- Canadians watch an average of 446 videos (or 25 hours) per month.

- People tend to spend about 23% of their time consuming ads while watching TV, while 16% of the time they view premium long-form online video is spent consuming ads.

_MG_6393_sm2. You can’t force-feed branded content

Branded content is not product placement, folks. You can get away with putting your brand smack-bang in the middle of a kissing scene, and sleep comfortably knowing that viewers probably won’t switch channels because of it. But where’s the guarantee people won’t tune out of your branded content? Simple answer: there is none.

As terrifying as that may sound to a marketer, Robert Lambrechts of Pereira & O’Dell - which created Intel’s branded entertainment films - says that’s the risk you take in order to get the highest degree of engagement.

Lambrechts shares his three top success secrets when it comes to great branded content:

Think like a marketer: An obvious deduction, but one that gets lost sometimes in the excitement of producing content. It’s not just about creating cool content, you need to solve a business problem. So stay focused on the end-goal.

Behave like an entertainer: Most advertisers don’t have reputations as entertainers, yet. Hire passionate film talent, and let them create strong narratives that people want to tune into each week. Consumer skepticism will eventually fade as it becomes the norm for advertisers to be the go-to source for binge-worthy content.

Move like a startup: Act fast. Don’t get caught up in the risks. Follow the footsteps of startups, and put your content out there. It’s not enough just to talk about it – get it out and then learn from your mistakes.

One more thing. “What we do now will determine how all of this will be viewed in the next 10 years,” he says. We’re on the precipice of a game-changing content-filled industry: so get to work.

_MG_7651_sm3. The Onion invented branded content  

Okay, so that’s not true. But that’s how Rick Hamann, SVP of content at The Onion introduced his BCON address.

In reality, the satirical site partners with brands looking to reach the “aren’t they the worst?” demo: millennials. He cited examples from work with companies like Lenovo for a fantasy football web series Tough Season, and a fake news network it made with Bud Light for its “Whatever USA” campaign.

He noted brands who succeed with The Onion recognize that they can’t have both total control of their content and total affinity with the satirical brand, saying there has be a trade-off.

4. Broadcasters can (and will) build shows with advertisers in mind

At last year’s BCON Expo, Shaw Media announced it was launching three new cross-platform specialty properties with brands built into the DNA, including a potential adaptation of HGTV U.S.’s Dream Home series. This year, Shaw announced it was instead developing its own original format inspired by the Dream Home franchise to better feature its roster of talent from other HGTV Canada series, and build a prime time series better suited for advertisers.


“What we wanted to do was something that would be much more meaningful, and therefore offer more meaningful opportunities for our (advertising) clients to get involved because it would be such a big prime time event,” said Emily Morgan, senior director of original lifestyle content at Shaw Media.

To that end, The Home that that HGTV Built will likely feature sponsors for the various aspects of the house, such as a paint supplier or a carpet supplier, on top of partnerships with retailers like big-box stores. Calling the show “branded content on steroids,” Barb McKergow, sales director with Shaw Media, said the broadcaster can work with advertisers to figure out how to best integrate products into the series.

“There have been several instances in the past where advertisers have asked us for certain things we really haven’t been able to accommodate because there was a format we had to follow,” McKergow said. “With this show, there is no pre-approved format. It’s a format we are developing, so we feel very liberal in our approach with advertisers. We will be able to fulfill advertisers wants and needs.”

Yesterday also saw the CBC announce two new additions to Dragons’ Den announced live from its BCON Expo jimTrelivingBCONsession. In an announcement that had veteran Dragon Jim Treliving joining CBC execs and producers, the team revealed that entrepreneurs Michele Romanow and Manjit Minhas will round out the Dragons lineup for the 10th season of the series, which bows this fall.

5. The “new creative” doesn’t have to cost more

Anna Yorke, global lead of Newcast, the branded content and social arm of media agency ZenithOptimedia, broke down the economics of digital spots. She says a web series episode costs about 1/10th the amount of a 30-second spot TV spot and an online how-to video can cost about 1/250th of a TV spot.

No longer restricted by old media models, she says the opportunities in branded content lie in the fact that the places people consume content are now more part of the flow of their days.

When social media first became a “thing” brands jumped onto the platforms just to be there, she says, now they need annaYorkeBconto take a step back and plan the content that’s going on the platforms.

Yorke cited some social media fails from the U.K., such as grocer Ocado, who targeted customers with an ad that said they were forgetting their anniversary with the company, that was construed by many as creepy. “Face it,” she says. “People don’t want brands as friends. There needs to be thought put into messaging when trying to create relationships with consumers.”

6. It’s not as easy it looks: three different perspectives, three lessons for native advertising

A brand (GE), a publisher (Thomson Reuters) and a media company (Polar) walk into a room full of brands, publishers and media companies and share three things that answer the question, “what makes good (nay, great) native advertising?” Here’s what they had to say during the Globe and Mail‘s upfront session.

_MG_6221_smYvonne Gibson, GE: The publisher is an adjacent voice that helps a brand communicate to an audience that the two share. Look to production agencies, publishers and other entities to partner and create content. Rely on the publisher to understand the reader and shape the content.

Tony Vlismas, Polar Mobile: Don’t hide behind editorial. Make sure that people can see it’s sponsored. Transparency creates success, people will share the content even if it’s paid to be there, just as long as it’s authentic.

Stephen Sonnenfeld, Thomson Reuters: Start with the story first. Depending on the nature, that will depict how a brand will tell the story. Figure out what to create to connect a brand and group of people, for example physical experiences, native ads and apps. Bank apps, for instance, are branded content and is actually better at promoting the brand than the advertising they put to support it.

7. Take risks by being patient
While the presentation by Kimberly-Clark Canada brand manager Denise Darroch was, ostensibly, about using web series to create stronger emotional connections, the big takeaway was that an idea doesn’t have to be flashy and pushed hard to consumers to be bold, adventurous and effective.

Carmilla was a web series started by Kimberly-Clark’s U by Kotex brand, where a novel about a vampire from the 1800s was adapted into a 36-episode web series, told through the lens of a college-aged vlogger. But aside from some very subtle product placement in the background, there was nothing that overtly said Kotex produced the series.

The series, as well as extra content in the form of videos and social media, had 11 million earned impressions over six months. The fan campaign to “Save Carmilla,” which saw fans take to social media to show their support for the Kotex brand to bring the show back for a second season, saw 11.6 tweets per minute over a 24 hour period, with no paid media. And Darroch attributes that success not only to telling the story from a millennial perspective on platforms like YouTube and Tumblr where they tend to be the most passionate, but to the effort that went into building a millennial fan base. That was done by being authentic, and that meant not driving a brand message home until the series was more than halfway done. When that time came, the product wasn’t talked about in the main series, but in extra content, something fans were clamouring for.

“Everyone wants to know about ROI, but the ROI here is the fanbase, and that’s not always taken so well [by brands],” Darroch says, but added that because Kotex took its time to build authentic love for the series, that love was easily transferred over to the brand. “What we got were brand advocates. They loved us as executive producers and started to become very loyal to us. The fan support and extra things they are creating themselves, that’s not something we are paying for or even asking for. They’re doing that of their own free will.”
Photos by Ryan Walker (ryanwalkerphoto.ca)