Beyond the Hype - On Branded Content as a Serious Marketing Tool
on branded content as a serious marketing tool
BEYOND THE HYPE
Libertyfarm.nl – harvesting game changing ideas
Defy the advertising paradigm. We need different ideas.
THE ADVERTISING IDEA
In 1898,the famous French tire brand Michelin invented ‘Bibendum’; a
brand mascot that has grown into an advertising property, still used by
Michelin in ads up to this day. Although being somewhat of a cultural
icon, Bibendum is nevertheless unable to become more in media than
advertising - its seeding ground. The character cannot be interviewed
and it cannot join the conversation in social media (not in a believable
way, that is). Thus: it cannot generate believable content – though a
comic for kids might be a possibility, but then again, what does a
children’s comic have to do with tires?
THE IDEA TO ADVERTISE
…opposed to Michelin’s Bibendum character as an Advertising Idea, let’s consider the
infamous guide to restaurants & hotels by the same French tire manufacturer as an
example of an Idea to Advertise. The guide started in 1900, to direct drivers towards
good restaurants and hotels while en route - a brand utility avant la lettre. And an Idea to
Advertise as well, because Michelin could use advertising to promote their guide.
Advertising is not necessary, though, because the guide singlehandedly generates lots of
free publicity each year. The Michelin Guide has become much more in media than
advertising only. It is branded content in its truest sense.
Since lists have become a common format in the
practice of creating branded content, I will present a list of:
RULES OF THUMB
…to create ‘ideas to advertise’ in stead of ‘advertising ideas’
PEOPLE, STOP HIDING
BEHIND YOUR BRAND
For too long, brand employees have hidden
themselves behind the safe walls of
something I like to refer to as ‘Smoke &
Mirrors Marketing Communications’.
But find out what happens with your point of
view of the Cisco brand, when you take notice
of the fact that its CEO decided to
communicate more than just an obvious
profile text online. The man concerned, John
T. Chambers, is not afraid to join the (online)
conversation and publicly shares his personal
tweets and Facebook activity. The result is a
few extra points deserved on the believabilityscale, plus omnipresence in social media and
resulting free publicity.
One of the best examples of a brand that
puts its employees center stage is Electronics
retail store Best Buy. Check the next slide for
a case video on the Twelpforce concept.
The Twelpforce case was developed in 2008
by agency Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, but is
still running up to this day.
In 2012, ABN AMRO (a major Dutch bank) turned to my company
with a problem: due to the credit crisis, providing loans for small
businesses has become very difficult for them. How can ABN AMRO
make sure that small entrepreneurs keep a positive mind set towards
the bank’s brand? Is it wise for them to develop branded content
targeted at small entrepreneurs, like: tips, tricks and free advice ?
(Small) entrepreneurs are notoriously cocky. They don’t need advice they did not ask for – to them, it will come across as
advertising disguised as advice. They just expect a bank to help them out financially. That’s all. But ABN AMRO cannot deliver on
that promise as well as they used to do anymore…
Luckily, there is another way of doing business – much older than the monetary system.
It is called bartering.
You do something for me. And I will do something for you.
As a bank, ABN AMRO owns a potentially powerful network of entrepreneurs. All the bank needs to do is bring them together
and facilitate a bartering platform, to truly lend a helping hand to small entrepreneurs …
I DO SOMETHING FOR YOU. YOU DO SOMETHING FOR ME.
Wisselwerk (trans: ‘barter job’) is a (online) platform where entrepreneurs can barter services, products, space and
knowledge with each other. A home painter paints the accountant’s office, for which the accountant returns the favour by
taking care of the house painter’s taxes.
Branded Content? Well, yes:
Just to give you some examples:
ABN AMRO’s economic department researches the size of the potential Dutch barter market and presents the results in a kick-off
press release, generating some free publicity.
Social media is fully integrated in the online platform, barter deals become shareable moments of collaboration (envision what
might happen to the widely used #durftevragen [trans: #daretoask] hashtag on twitter…)
‘Blind Date’ - editorial format: entrepreneurs who helped each other out, are interviewed afterwards.
Local ‘Barter job Network Events’ are organized to create some buzz (and branded content) around the online platform.
Content Contest: entrepreneurs who collaborated successfully via the online platform are asked to share their experience in image
and text. The most creative or imaginative collaborations wins. And the generated content can be used online and offline in native
branded content / advertorials.
(unfortunately, due to previous negative experiences with building an online platform (among other things), ABN AMRO could understandably not be convinced to execute this idea… )
DIGITAL STRATEGIST HELGE TENNØ:
“Online has added a new concept to the marketing universe; the
ability for marketing to start proving on its own promise,
delevering on expectations – and that is an immensely powerful
ADULTS DON’T BELIEVE
IN FAIRY TALES
Independer.nl is Holland's biggest insurance comparison
website. ‘Indy’ is their mascot: a fictional small webcam
brought to life by the tools of 3D animation. Independer.nl
uses Indy as a kind of spokesperson on their Facebook
website. Which is a mistake, because adults don’t like to be
treated as little kids, talking to a fictional character.
THE AGE OF MASS MEDIA
NEEDED TOOLS OF FICTION
The use of fiction in marketing communications stems from the 20th century,
when a large chunk of marketing communication took place via mass media. In
this age of mass media, a great distance existed between brands and ‘the
audience’. Marketers needed the tools of fiction to ‘touch’ people emotionally,
For example: the cigarette brand Marlboro created a fictional world around their
products: “Welcome to Marlboro Country”. This myth added the higher
emotional values of ‘adventure’ and ‘manhood’ to their product, in order to
discern themselves from their competitors who sold almost identical products. By
doing so, Marlboro aimed at creating a preference among the audience for their
brand over that of a competitor.
FROM MASS COMMUNICATION
BACK TO PEER-TO-PEER DIALOGUES
But by entering the digital domain in the 21st century, our world has radically
changed. According to media theorist Douglas Rushkoff:
“the digital domain restores the powerful peer-to-peer dialogues and transactions
back to the situation before mass media took over.”
And this has some severe implications on the practice of building myths around
brands, by using fictional tools:
BRAKING THE MYTH
To further quote media theorist Douglas Rushkoff:
“Digital technology is biased against fiction and towards facts. When people
on the net talk about brands, they don’t talk about the myths built around
brands. They talk about the stuff that brakes the myth.”
…as we can all experience by the example of the ad busting of Marlboro, as
shown here :-).
My point: stop using fiction and turn towards facts.
THAT IS WHAT WE DID FOR DUTCH AIRLINE KLM.
KLM is doing well among business travellers, but they are losing leisure customers to low cost carriers. That is why KLM
developed a more competitive pricing proposition plus a marketing communication strategy, based on the consumer insight that
a leisure vacation creates positive memories and adds some inspiration to the lives of customers. Hence, the pay-off: ‘een reis
vol inspiratie’ (trans: ‘a trip full of inspiration’).
to strenghten KLM’s image of a carrier suitable for your vacation trip.
‘A trip full of Inspiration’ is biased to become a kind of fictional advertising storyline, in which
we see people enjoying some paradise-like vacation. In short: a fictional story the audience will
find hard to believe. That is why we developed a platform that facilitated real-life storytelling among genuine people, concerning their vacation. Check the next slide for
the case video (in Dutch).
OPEN FORUM BY
OPEN Forum is a site dedicated to small
business owners hosted by American Express. Its
mission: “to connect small business owners to
information, education, and each other.” OPEN
Forum is essentially a community that gives
Information and educational content. The
Connectodex feature can help business owners
generate new leads by intelligently matching
businesses with similar needs and interests. And
the platform hosts lots of user generated content
With millions of visitors, hundreds of contributors
and over 200,000 twitter followers, the platform
is quite successful, to say the least.
START TE CONVERSATION
McDonalds Canada was able to generate online (and social)
content, by inviting people to ask them whatever they
wanted. The fast food company wasn’t afraid to answer very
uncompromising questions, Like “Why does your food look
different in advertising than what is in the store?” Check out
how McDonalds handled the issue in the accompanying film
online: it has generated over 9,4 million views (!).
As MIT professor Marshall van Alstyne states:
“12 out of 30 global brands are companies that have a platform to offer.”
Like: Google, Apple, Nike, Amazon, Facebook, etc..
rule no. 5:
BE SOCIETAL RELEVANT
AND TAKE A STAND
Is all about how a brand connects with society.
What role does the brand play in the world
surrounding it? And what opinion holds the brand
in relation to its societal role? Brands must be
outspoken and opinionated in order to connect
with people. When the brand does not hold some
strong believes that are relevant to the world we
live in, people will find it hard to relate to the
HOW NOT TO EXECUTE
Achmea is one of the largest Dutch insurance companies. Their products are very
relevant to Dutch society – where issues concerning health (how to keep health
care affordable for all), employment (rising unemployment figures), mobility
(Holland suffers from severe traffic indigestion), retirement (how to finance the
aging demographic of Dutch society), safety (people feel more unsafe than ever),
often lead the societal debate. Achmea insurance products are closely linked tot
those issues (e.g. via health insurance, retirement plans, etc.). That is why Achmea
launched ‘Volgens Nederland’ (trans: ‘According to Holland’), an online and offline
platform, set up to facilitate the participation of ordinary people in the societal
But If you as a person would have the choice of spending your Saturday afternoon
with your family, or participating in an online discussion concerning raising the age
of retirement with fellow Dutch people, what would you choose? Exactly…
Although based on a societal insight, Achmea made the misstake to merely
facilitate the societal debate with their platform. What they should have done to
become really societal relevant, is starting a discussion by ventilating a company
opinion on the issues at hand: what do you think would happen, if Achmea spreads
the word that they support the raising of the retirement age to 70 years? That will
get the fire going…
(No, I am not naïve to the implications such a statement would have for the company – I am
merely trying to make a case here. See my blog libertyfarm.nl for a full opinion on Achmea’s
HOW TO EXECUTE SOCIETAL RELEVANCY?
An example from my own practice: Relatieplanet.nl is the Dutch market leader in online dating. The company is run by very down-to earth people
form the northern part of Holland: they don’t need a fancy office in Amsterdam. They don’t believe in quasi-scientific match making tests used by their
competition – their idea: just get a drink together, if you are curious about the existence of the infamous spark. And when clients call the office, they
just pick up the phone – no pre-recorded menu of choices to go through. In my opinion, this already present, down-to–earth, internal company culture
should be communicated to the outside world – transparency, right? Problem: a “down-to-earth” brand DNA does not necessarily match very well
with the romantic, exiting, maybe even erotic qualities of the category….But the search for societal relevance led to a solution:
PERFECT PARTNER PRESSURE
Our research (consisting of online buzz monitoring, desk research and
qualitative interviews with relationship therapists) brought to light a
major societal issue in the area of dating and relationships: many people
suffer from what we called ‘perfect partner pressure’: their expectations
of a future partner, fed by media imagery and narcissism so common
among people coming of age in the individualistic era, is way too high.
This leads to either narcissistic behavior (“my girlfriend does not match
Kate Moss – let’s ditch her”) or to feelings of severe insecurity: (“I am not
good enough. I am not as pretty nor as witty as the rest”). This perfect
partner pressure became the seeding ground for finding societal
relevance for Relatieplanet, matching their down-to-earth brand DNA:
RELATIEPLANET’S SOCIETAL RELEVANT
A long-lasting relationship requires passion, sure,
but down-to-earthiness and decisiveness as well.
Because: if you really like to attain a serious relationship,
you should stop focussing on the outside.
You should start exploring the inside.
You should stop comparing people to your mental perfect partner picture
and start to approach the other more openly and honestly.
You should stop escaping into your fantasies
and start to act according to reality.
Relatieplanet.nl wants to help you to get rid of Perfect Partner Pressure
and thus help you to be more successful in obtaining a long-lasting relationship.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
After all, you probably will not find the partner of your dreams at Relatieplanet.nl.
You will find normal, real people.
people that are ready to share their live with someone else.
Just like you.
Relatieplanet.nl – Stop dreaming. Start dating.
SOCIETAL RELEVANCE LEADS
TO MORE THAN JUST ADS
Alex Bogusky, one of the founders of advertising agency Crispin,
Porter, Bogusky, used to tell his creative teams: “Don’t show me the
script. Show me the press release.” The press release in his quote
works like a litmus test: When the idea can be easily translated to a
press release, the idea is obviously touching on a societal issue. And
that means talk value. And content instead of ads. And conversations
instead of messaging top-down….
SOCIETAL RELEVANCE LEADS
TO MORE THAN JUST ADS
We combined an analysis of Relatieplanet.nl’s user data with quantitative
research among 2000 Dutch singles, concerning the hypothesis” “Perfect
Partner Pressure forms a threshold for obtaining a long-lasting, serious
relationship.” Out of this combined research, we distilled four different
press releases, send out selectively throughout the campaign period.
Result: a huge amount of free publicity, both online and offline…
r Courant ed lage
: € 1765,3
LEADS TO MORE
THAN JUST ADS
…and more in-depth feature articles in magazines:
LEADS TO MORE
THAN JUST ADS
Societal relevance made it possible to
contact editorial staff of VROUW
Magazine (trans: Woman Magazine) to
create branded content. They developed
online content concurrent with the four
THAN JUST ADS
…and even a special edition on dating in the printed
version of VROUW Magazine. The middle of the
magazine showed four ‘regular guys’, ready for a
date with the magazine’s readers.
LEADS TO RESULTS
Relatieplanet.nl obtained 40,88% increase in free
memberships, compared to exactly the same period a
year earlier. The conversion percentage to paid
members doubled. Brand awareness rose 8%.
ALEX BOGUSKY’S LESSON
“Don’t show me the script.
Show me the press release.”
rule no. 6:
DEVELOP A BRAND
CONCEPT THAT DIRECTS
THE RELATIEPLANET BRAND CONCEPT
We were humbled by receiving one of the biggest complements ever from a client: “We (relatieplanet.nl) asked you to develop a theme
campaign. We got one, plus we got ourselves a new company vision as well.” A very opinionated vision, to be more specific – that is why
we like to use to call it a ‘Brand Manifest’. But Brand Manifests or visions are often too abstract to lead change or to be truly directional.
The Brand Concept serves as a poetic compression of the vision / brand manifest, it is more ‘actionable’, directing to brand development
and business ideas. Check the next slide to see how.
BRAND MANIFEST / VISION
People shouldn’t be enslaved to their over-romantic Perfect Partner imagery. It is the biggest
threshold in obtaining a succesful long-term relationship. Helping people to become more realistic
will lead to an increase in feelings of happiness.
BRAND CONCEPT (poetic compression of the vision)
Stop dreaming. Start Dating.
“It seems like no one is good enough”
“My new girlfriend is just
not as hot as Kate Moss”
A BRAND CONCEPT THAT DRIVES THE BUSINESS
The authentic Brand Manifest and the resulting brand concept helps Relatieplanet to stop thinking about their online
platform as their sole product. It gives Relatieplanet direction in developing other (business) ideas, something we like to
refer to as a ‘concept that drives the business’: what to think of a relationship coach service? Or ‘Dating Classes’, helping
people to be successful at their first date? Or a book on personal development? Or a TV format in which women and
men who suffer severely from Perfect Partner Pressure are helped to become more realistic? The Brand Manifest helps
Relatieplanet to leave the ‘Red Ocean’ of dating websites severely competing with one another, and to enter the
‘Blue Ocean’, creating new businesses around their discerning philosophy.
(Black circles are executed. Yellow-rimmed circles are opportunities).
Online video /
A true ‘concept brand’ is able to become believable and
trustworthy again, because its promise is proven by its
products / services and its marketing communications
transcend the artificial values so commonly used. As
Unilever’s Keith Weed states: "In the digital world, a
brand is judged by what it says, but more Importantly by
what it does. Advertising can introduce a brand
to new consumers but ultimately a brand is
judged by how it acts.”
A BANK THAT BECAME A
How many banks can you think of that put so much faith in
the power of branded content that they began producing
award-winning television and video shows on a daily basis?
No matter how hard you try, it’s likely you’ll only come up
with one: Jyske (pronounced You-ska) Bank. Jyske Bank has
created one of the most high-tech, in-house television
production studios in Denmark. In fact, the company refers
to itself as both a bank and a media company. Check the
casefilm on the next slide.
SUMMARY OF ALL RULES
1. PEOPLE, STOP HIDING BEHIND YOUR BRAND
Everybody knows that brands hide companies in which people work together. Bring the backside to the front. Dare to be personal.
2. STOP TELLING AND START DOING
Act instead of talk.
3. FACTS INSTEAD OF FICTION
Fairy tales are for children.
4. FACILITATE THE CONVERSATION
Get in touch with people and listen to them.
5. BE SOCIETAL RELEVANT AND TAKE A STAND
Hold a firm opinion that you can truly believe in.
6. DEVELOP A BRAND CONCEPT THAT DIRECTS
Give direction to your marketing communications and you brand.
7. THINK AND ACT LIKE A PUBLISHER
How does content become exiting content?
MORE CONTENT, LESS ADVERTISING
Because people talk less about advertising and more about content.