Beyond the Hype - On Branded Content as a Serious Marketing Tool


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Branded Content is currently a hype. In this slide deck, I try to explain what need to be done at brand strategy level first, in order to be able use branded content as a serious marketing tool.

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Beyond the Hype - On Branded Content as a Serious Marketing Tool

  1. 1. on branded content as a serious marketing tool   BEYOND THE HYPE – harvesting game changing ideas
  2. 2. Defy the advertising paradigm. We need different ideas. ‘IDEAS TOversus: ADVERTISE’ ‘ADVERTISING IDEAS’
  3. 3. 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?
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. 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’
  7. 7. SHOW YOURSELF 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.
  8. 8. REACH OUT AND TOUCH 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. Note: The Twelpforce case was developed in 2008 by agency Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, but is still running up to this day.
  9. 9. rule no. 2: STOP TELLING AND START DOING
  10. 10. 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 ?
  11. 11. (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 …
  12. 12. 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.
  13. 13. 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. •  Etc. •  Etc. (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… )
  14. 14. 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 idea.”
  15. 15. rule no. 3: FACTS INSTEAD OF FICTION  
  16. 16. ADULTS DON’T BELIEVE IN FAIRY TALES is Holland's biggest insurance comparison website. ‘Indy’ is their mascot: a fictional small webcam brought to life by the tools of 3D animation. 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.
  17. 17. 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, over distance. 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.
  18. 18. 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:
  19. 19. 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.
  20. 20. THAT IS WHAT WE DID FOR DUTCH AIRLINE KLM. Their problem: 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’). The goal: to strenghten KLM’s image of a carrier suitable for your vacation trip. Our solution: ‘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).
  22. 22. OPEN FORUM BY AMERICAN EXPRESS 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 business owners 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 as well. With millions of visitors, hundreds of contributors and over 200,000 twitter followers, the platform is quite successful, to say the least.
  23. 23. 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 (!).
  24. 24. THINK PLATFORMS 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..
  26. 26. SOCIETY BRAND SOCIETAL RELEVANCE 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 brand.
  27. 27. HOW NOT TO EXECUTE SOCIETAL RELEVANCY. 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 debate. 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 for a full opinion on Achmea’s online platform)
  28. 28. HOW TO EXECUTE SOCIETAL RELEVANCY? An example from my own practice: 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:
  29. 29. SOCIETAL INSIGHT: 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:
  30. 30. RELATIEPLANET’S SOCIETAL RELEVANT BRAND STATEMENT: 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. 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 You will find normal, real people. people that are ready to share their live with someone else. Just like you. – Stop dreaming. Start dating.
  31. 31. 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….
  32. 32. Publicatie Datum Pagina SOCIETAL RELEVANCE LEADS TO MORE THAN JUST ADS We combined an analysis of’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… . Stad : 26.230 r Courant ed lage Op : Leeuwarde : dagelijks Frequentie : 04-01-2011 : 17 aarde Advertentiew Regio : € 1765,3 : Leeuwar
  33. 33. SOCIETAL RELEVANCE LEADS TO MORE THAN JUST ADS …and more in-depth feature articles in magazines:
  34. 34. SOCIETAL RELEVANCE 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 press releases…
  35. 35. SOCIETAL RELEVANCE LEADS TO MORE 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.
  36. 36. SOCIETAL RELEVANCE LEADS TO RESULTS 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%.
  37. 37. ALEX BOGUSKY’S LESSON “Don’t show me the script. Show me the press release.”
  39. 39. THE RELATIEPLANET BRAND CONCEPT We were humbled by receiving one of the biggest complements ever from a client: “We ( 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. IDEA “It seems like no one is good enough” SMALL IDEA “My new girlfriend is just not as hot as Kate Moss”
  40. 40. 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). Branded content VROUW magazine Relationship Coach Singles parties PR research Dating School Concept: Stop dreaming. Start dating. Personal development book Free publicity Branded content Guerrilla stunts Redesign brand identity Communication toolkit Advertising Online video / TV format Editorial cooperation
  41. 41. BELIEVABLE BRANDS 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.”
  42. 42. rule no. 7: THINK AND ACT LIKE A PUBLISHER
  43. 43. A BANK THAT BECAME A MEDIA COMPANY 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.
  44. 44. 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?
  45. 45. MORE CONTENT, LESS ADVERTISING Because people talk less about advertising and more about content.