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7 great examples of branded content

What it is and how leading brands are using it well.

This article is an extract of Tom May’s article published on Creativebloq.com, on June 2018. Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers.

 

 

We live in fast-changing times for branding, marketing and advertising. As more and more of us use recording devices that let you skip TV commercials, along with ad-blocking software online, how does a brand get its message across?

One increasingly popular strategy is to use branded content. From sponsored magazine articles to online webisodes, music videos to short films, this kind of content is so entertaining, informative and engaging that consumers are happy to view and share it of their own volition.

The marketing message may be upfront or almost invisible, but that’s not what’s important. It’s all about making people want to see it, rather than being forced or tricked into seeing it.

Here we look at some of the best examples of branded content in the 2010s so far.

01. Newspaper article: Netflix

 

With the number of people willing to pay for newspapers and magazines falling, old media needs to find new sources of revenue – online as well as in print. One way to boost income is to run sponsored articles, but matching the right marketing message with engaging and informing content can be a tricky business.

 

This New York Times article, Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work, hits exactly the right note. Sponsored by Netflix’s hit prison drama Orange is the New Black, the longform read is fascinating, relevant and elegantly presented. Interactive images, a captivating video and strong journalistic content all add up to a great article that ticks all the boxes for both brand and reader.

02. Music video: Honda

 

OK Go is an alternative rock band from Chicago known for its funny and creative music videos. And its video for 2014’s I Won’t Let You Down, which debuted on NBC’s Today Show, put a whole new spin on product placement: https://youtu.be/u1ZB_rGFyeU

 

In it, the band members cavort around on Honda’s UNI-CUB self-balancing unicycles, which represented a massive PR coup for the company. Although there’s no actual mention of Honda, the video on YouTube – which has so far had over 38 million views – linked to an interactive website (now offline), allowing people to see behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and information about the Honda UNI-CUB itself.

03. Print magazine: Net-a-Porter

 

As one door closes, another opens. And with traditional publishers reluctant to launch new magazines, companies are fast stepping in to fill the vacuum. One of the most critically and commercially successful to date has been fashion retailer Net-a-Porter’s magazine, Porter.

 

By combining access to the website’s audience data with global magazine market intelligence, the company has been able to target the magazine’s content with laser accuracy, and achieve a circulation of around 180,000, outselling many traditional fashion magazines and even coming within spitting distance of Vogue.

 

As well as making money from the cover price, Net-a-Porter has put a lot of effort into making sure the bi-monthly title also drives retail sales. For example, readers are able to scan a print issue with the Net-a-Porter app, and immediately arrive at the relevant purchase page, making for a seamless shopping experience.

 

Porter’s sister title The Edit is even more transparent about its brochure-like ambitions, with buttons in the free digital magazine taking readers to ‘shop the issue’.

04. Viral video: Dove

 

https://youtu.be/XpaOjMXyJGk

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign stems from research suggesting that only four per cent of women would describe themselves as beautiful. This short video highlights this gap between perception and reality in brilliant fashion.

 

A sketch artist creates two drawings of a series of women. One is based on their own description of how they look; the other based on a stranger’s description. The discrepancy between the two highlights powerfully how inaccurate women’s own views of their beauty are.

 

With over 114 million views in just one month, this ad became the most viral video ad of all time. While it says nothing about the qualities of the product itself, the campaign got the world talking, and Dove has been part of that conversation – boosting sales massively in the process.

05. Radio station: Pedigree

 

https://youtu.be/jEzkNQdCsl8

Content marketing isn’t just about print, TV and online: broadcast radio remains a powerful and popular medium, and fertile ground for branded content. But perhaps the most unlikely example comes in the form of a New Zealand radio station for dogs.

 

K9FM was based on advice from pet experts that people should leave the radio on when they leave the house, to keep their dog company. But rather than a normal radio station, Colenso BBDO Auckland thought, why not one tailored to dogs themselves?

 

The agency created hours of original content to play all day, every day on the channel, including discussions on topics like The Frisbee: Voodoo, Magic, Science?; a sports section called Fetch in the Park, and a thought for the day entitled Chew on This.

 

K9FM received more than 1,000 phone calls from dog owners during the first two weeks of broadcasting, and within the three months of the campaign, Pedigree dog food enjoyed a three-year sales high.

06. Short film: Procter & Gamble

 

https://youtu.be/XjJQBjWYDTs

The maker of Always, Procter & Gamble, wanted to place puberty’s profound impact on girls’ confidence into the media spotlight. So it commissioned this short documentary by filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, which approaches the topic via the phrase ‘like a girl’.

 

A series of interviews show that for young children, ‘like a girl’, means to do something well, whereas for teenagers and young women it means to do it ineffectively.

 

The fourth most viewed ad in 2014 on YouTube, the video was followed up by several positive #LikeAGirl videos featuring sporting and cultural role models offering proactive solutions. For example, a 2015 video featuring Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, Unstoppable, encourages girls to smash limitations set on them by society, which are visually interpreted as boxes stamped with prescribed roles for girls.

07. Feature film: Lego

 

https://youtu.be/fZ_JOBCLF-I

You know you’ve succeeded at branded content when people are having so much fun, they don’t even notice they’re being marketed to.

 

The hilarious and surprisingly clever Lego Movie earned a worldwide total of over $469 million, all the while promoting Lego to a new global generation of kids.

 

It has been followed up so far by the Lego Batman Movie and Lego Ninjago Movie, with more in the pipeline – proving that when you get branded content right, everything really is awesome.

Predicting the Top 9 Retail Trends for 2018

Now, retail is a relationship instead of a series of transactions. Technology is the great equalizer and the consumer is at the center of the new retail ecosystem.

The rise of e-commerce and customer experience has changed the face of retail. In its very early days, retail was built on a barter system. Now, retail is a relationship instead of a series of transactions. Technology is the great equalizer and the consumer is at the center of the new retail ecosystem.

Niall O’Gorman, ChannelSight’s CCO and co-founder, talks through some of the biggest trends we can expect in retail for 2018.

1. The marriage of Omnichannel and technology will drive sales

 

As a multichannel approach to retail, omnichannel provides an integrated shopping experience for the consumer. The idea is simple: give the customer a seamless retail experience between their channels, i.e. from their desktop to mobile phone to in-store experience.

 

For example, a shopper might start their transaction on desktop before later moving to mobile and then making the final purchase in-store. With omnichannel, the initial first touchpoint shouldn’t matter as the experience should be the same across every channel.

 

Of particular interest is Pointy, an Irish start-up which raised $6 million in funding in September 2017. Leveraging digital to drive in-store sales, Pointy’s tech links in with barcode scanners. Every time a product is scanned, Pointy automatically generates a web page for the item with real-time, localised product information. “The power of this is huge for smaller retailers which lack resources. This little widget is essentially a piece of plastic that plugs into the till and scanner.”

2. Personalisation will continue to grow

 

Personalisation is a tactic that small brands are using to go toe-to-toe with megaliths such as Amazon. The avenues for personalisation vary: it could be as simple as personalised packaging or as large as printed products with thousands of name variants, as Coca-Cola did with its Coke bottle campaign.

 

Digital personalisation is taking off too, with personalised video’s building momentum. One such example is Treepodia, a personalised video platform, that create real-time, shoppable video content. An example of some of Treepodia’s work is a video recipe for Cadbury – which worked to great effect.

 

“If you visit a site, you might see a slightly different version than someone else. The imagery, the messaging, and the promotional mechanics can be personalised around you.”

 

Likewise, websites are becoming increasingly personalised to users. Content is smarter with products and information changing to suit consumers’ past browsing habits. It could be as straightforward as providing similar products to once the user purchased or as complex as changing the call-to-actions relevant to the buyer’s purchase patterns.

3. Consumers are driving an information-economy – but rules will apply

 

Where websites were once linear, brands increasingly need to know who they are talking to – and how and when consumers want to be talked to. The array of pixels, cookies, and smart content/targeting allows for that – but there’s a caveat.

 

“Consumers now have the power,” Niall says. “They’re more in control. It’s going from the brand being king to the consumer being king. It’s the consumer choosing what level of contact, promotion, and content they want to be exposed to by brands, retailers, and organisations.”

 

For example, consumers can opt-in or out of your newsletter on a whim or they can choose to ignore or interact with your online advertising relative to how interesting it is to them. With so much choice for purchasing, consumers can afford to be flaky – someone else is probably selling the same thing for a comparative price.

 

With GDPR coming in in May 2018 this means that brands, publishers, and media companies will need to reconsider their opt-in processes and how consumer data is stored. Retargeting and hyper-targeted content are useful, but could be considered invasive – which in turn, reflects in the rise of AdBlock.

 

“There has to be balance between personalisation and privacy controls and data regulations,” Niall reasons. Brands need to accept that the path to purchase is no longer linear. Consumers are choosing how and where they convert.

 

To be truly effective, brands need to move away from the idea that social is strictly for selling. Social is a platform built on engagement and – if implemented correctly – has the potential to build long-lasting relationships with customers. It’s part of the reason why ‘Buy Now’ buttons are so powerful. When placed contextually and into a relevant step in the purchasing path, they can be the missing link for consumers to make the final step to conversion.

4. Voice search will gain wider proliferation

 

Voice search gained steam in 2017, but it’s still on the cusp of being mainstream. Where voice search on mobile is useful in the car or when you’re handsfree, the true benefit comes with IoT and smart homes.

 

It’s a simple equation that places retail at the tail-end. ChannelSight recently worked with Hi Mum! Said Dad to showcase the potential of the connected home in the FMCG space for FrieslandCampina. An app was created to link a fridge with reactive recipe suggestions.

 

It starts with a voice query: “Hey, Alexa, what’s in my fridge?”

 

Alexa and the smart fridge pair in real-time and the chatbot springs to life, asking if you’d like a recipe suggestion and later reading out the ingredients you’d need. You can then automatically make an order to replace the produce, down to payment and delivery.

 

Of course, as the technology progresses, the capabilities will go further: your oven may even begin to pre-heat based on when you want to make dinner.

5. The rise of conversational commerce

 

Chatbots bridge the gap between consumer and call centre by offering pre-programmed information on returns, pricing, size, stock, and promotions. In a recent project with Duracell, ChannelSight created a shoppable chatbot that was hosted on Facebook, giving consumers another conversion path.

 

Chatbots have the capabilities to look like a real person and speak naturally. Crucially, they can hand over to a human if necessary. “The benefit is clear,” Niall says. “The customer service team can spend longer and have richer conversations because they know that the virtual version of them can answer basic queries.”

 

It applies to omnichannel too, and the idea of conversational commerce. A consumer talk to a chatbot and then moves in-store. Their smartphone activates a beacon which pulls up the consumer’s details. The floor staff or salespeople will then see the important details of prior conversations and can take over from there.

6. Reality is virtual

 

The big drawback of virtual and augmented realities has been the slow adoption of its hardware and understanding of the differences of what each technology offers. For gaming and immersion, virtual reality works – but the headset can be a drawback for anyone wanting to passively experience something.

 

On a macro scale, augmented reality has a long way to go but it can translate in-store. If you’re walking into a store and you hold up your phone to find a certain item, your phone can activate to give you that information. Fashion and FMCG are also seeing the beginnings of AR adoption. Converse released the Sampler mobile app in 2016 where consumers could ‘try out’ the shoe on-foot by pointing their camera at their foot.

 

While the technology is still in development, expect a wider uptake in 2018.

7. The instore visit will be experiential

 

The format of the typical store is changing. Retail owners need to consider their shop’s role in the overall framework of how they attract, interact, and retain consumers.

 

Much consideration comes down to space and its utilisations. For example, Lidl’s AW17 fashion collection with Heidi Klum featured across small pop-up stores. As omnichannel grows, retailers will need to consider if they require a large physical store or if something more akin to a virtual showroom will suffice.

 

Make-up giant, Sephora, is known for its large storefront with rows of multi-brand product. However, in mid-2017 it launched its first Sephora Studio in downtown Boston. A much smaller affair, the studio aims to provide an intimate experience for consumers.

 

It’s all about finding the right balance for consumers and their shopping preferences. “There are so many different dynamics as to why someone might want to buy something in a given moment,” Niall says. “The worst thing you can do is try and sell something when someone doesn’t want to be sold to.”

8. The Internet of Things will change the face of delivery

 

When you think of advancements in delivery, you might think of drones. In practical terms, a sky full of drones is never going to happen. However, ‘ground drones’, or IoT-enabled mobile units, will likely be the future of delivery. Amazon has shown intent with the release of Amazon Key, a high-tech package delivery system. The idea is to create an Amazon-enabled delivery ecosystem: install the Amazon camera and lock on your home, and make your order.

 

The delivery person comes to your house, enters the code, and is given access to complete the delivery. In the future, it may even be a case that a drone could navigate its way to a consumer’s car for package delivery. A code would be sent to the customer’s phone for verification, they’d okay the delivery, and the car boot would pop open to accept the parcel.

 

The response, however, has been divisive: most Amazon Prime subscribers actually said  that they don’t want to buy the Amazon Key to grant access to their homes. “If you think of it from a volume perspective and you want something to be really effective,” he says, “a lot of these things [in the IoT space] are just show and tell: shiny objects and innovation for PR. But from that comes innovation that becomes mainstream. Many of these advances then become the go-to and are used in home systems and security.”

 

However, Amazon don’t yet have the monopoly they may have envisioned: in September 2017, Walmart announced a partnership with August Home, a smart lock start-up, that would allow a delivery person enter a customer’s order, deliver their groceries, and even put them away in their fridge. Since January, an Estonian start-up, Starship Technologies, has been using robots to deliver food to doorsteps in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. While the future may not see swarms of drones, robotic deliveries are a foregone conclusion.

9. Influencer transparency will be a big shift in retail for 2018

 

Influencer marketing has taken a beating in the last six months, having reached critical mass (and critical disapproval). However, from a brand perspective, influencer marketing is still laden with potential – especially in instances where the brand is new and its awareness doesn’t yet exist.

 

To see ROI, retailers will need to look at the mechanics of how influencer and brand co-exist. As Niall says, it’s all about accountability. “There have always been influencers,” Niall points out. “It’s not a new medium. Just like there have always been rockstars and musicians and actors.”

 

It’s not so much about big influencers anymore, but leveraging brand advocates. “It’s democratising what an influencer can be,” Niall says. “It’s not the few; it’s the many. An individual can be an influencer if they’ve got something to say that people are interested in.”

 

The results speak for themselves too. ChannelSight worked with drinks company, Tassimo, to mobilise the power of user-generated content. Product pages enriched with user-generated review videos saw a huge uplift and brought a:

  • 74% increase in add-to-basket conversion rate.
  • 161% increase in session duration.
  • 127% increase in pages per session.

 

User-generated content (and influencers) are great for providing social-proof, but brands still need to hold their influencers accountable as the digital landscape is in the midst of a reformation of metrics. It echoes in the biggest retail trend of all: the consumer is the heart of the new retail ecosystem – but that offers a window of opportunity for retailers who are willing to embrace it.