Today marketers are using content as a means of engaging with consumers. It is no longer enough to push the product towards the market; the product has to pull the market in, through channels such as social media.
Across every sector, brands are looking at creative ways to pull in consumers, says James Cashmore, entertainment industry leader at Google, which owns YouTube. “We are starting to see more and more [advertisers] using part of their media budgets to commission and create programmes and engage with brands through the likes of YouTube and Facebook,” he says.
However, marketers must not make content for content’s sake; it must serve a purpose. And as content creation takes up a greater part of the marketer’s role, they will need to understand its applications.
Most marketing material has the potential to be used as “pull” content, even if it is initially part of a “push” strategy. For example, BT’s “Adam and Jane” ads, like their Nescafé Gold Blend forebears of the 1980s and ’90s, create a narrative that viewers follow. In July, BT turned its push narrative into pull content by giving the public a say on what would happen next in the couple’s relationship.
“Our most recent ad and associated content is central to BT’s marketing plans, evolving our campaign from being broadcast-only to being an interactive campaign which the public can influence,” says BT Retail head of consumer communications David Still. The vote closed in August, resulting in the decision that Jane would become pregnant. BT’s dedicated web microsite now hosts the winning video, as well as outtakes and the entire back catalogue from the ad series.
Opening up the story to the public to develop its next stage was a calculated risk, given that people could suggest any outcome imaginable. While some suggestions were, predictably, facetious, the majority were not, Still says. In this respect, the brand appears to have reaped the rewards of its own six-year commitment to the storyline. BT will also “continue to invest in more content-driven marketing,” he pledges.
“This direct invitation to interact with BT’s advertising resulted in over 1.6 million votes and was picked up in mainstream press and radio,” Still continues. “As an open invitation, the ad naturally attracted its critics; but about 70% of responses were positive, reflecting people’s willingness to engage with the BT campaign narrative.”
The Virgin app
The message of engagement has also taken wing at Virgin Atlantic, propelled by smartphone apps. The brand’s “Fly Without Fear”, “Jet Lag Fighter” and “Flight Tracker” apps help fliers combat the irritations of air travel, while giving the airline access to thousands of potential new customers globally.
Virgin Atlantic head of PR Anna Knowles says: “Consumers are looking to engage with brands, and content is a key way for this to happen. People have come to expect that companies will provide content, and brands that do not do this will be left behind.”
The increasing importance of branded content in part inspired the programme of the Edinburgh International Marketing Festival, which launched in August this year and was covered by Marketing Week. The event is organised by the Marketing Society and client-agency intermediary Creativebrief.
According to Creativebrief managing director Paul Duncanson, original content has become integral to how brands address their target markets: “It is not about the advertising campaign, it is about the entertainment and engagement of your consumers. That has never been more true than it is now – you have to engage them, otherwise they will reject you.”
There are provisos, however, as Matt Jagger, creative partner at agency Naked Communications, pointed out during a seminar at the festival. “There is very little point making content if it is not very good. And there is very little point making content if it is not engaging, or if it does not deliver on your communication objectives.”
According to Jagger, Naked is currently working with Foster’s lager on the production of original comedy. Although the brand declines to confirm the extent of the plans, it is an area that the two companies have identified as a good fit for Foster’s values, with beer and laughter going hand in hand. Jagger attests to the brand’s eventual ambition to produce long-form content, “either an actual television series or even getting involved with movies”.
Who creates the content?
Brands might choose any number of ways to engage with consumers through content. They may create, commission or even sponsor the content, depending on their business objectives, brand values and on the audience they want to reach.
They might also choose different practitioners to help achieve their aims. As well as established creative agencies, there are many specialists queuing at the door to help.
Matt Jagger, creative partner at agency Naked Communications, argues that rather than choosing a particular type of agency, brands should be looking at previous relevant experience. In an address at the Edinburgh International Marketing Festival last month, he argued: “The best people at making entertainment content are the people who have done it for their careers. In the entertainment industry if you do not make good content, then you do not have a job.”
Jagger’s background is as the former chief executive of nightclub and music label Ministry of Sound, and many branded content specialists can draw on similar experience in entertainment.
Public relations firms are also attempting to muscle their way into this space. Mark Borkowski, founder of PR and creative agency Borkowski, says it has used its experience in content creation to diversify and pitch for business “against ad agencies”, although it has, generally, not been up against rival PR firms.
Similarly, TVC Group now produces content in various forms, having begun with pre-packaged news reports for clients. However, according to its commercial director Adam Clyne, marketers often do not have a firm idea who is qualified to carry out these responsibilities. He says: “No one really owns it at the moment. There is not a content director at the client side.”
Borkowski concurs: “There are still pigeon holes that people have to fill, though that is changing.”
For brands that see content as a core element of their marketing mix, the option of producing it in-house is a very real one. Lovefilm runs an ambitious website hosting original and aggregated editorial, attracting 60 million page views per month. At the other end of the spectrum, brands are associating themselves with advertiser-funded programming produced or commissioned by commercial broadcasters, who increasingly offer the facility for consumers to see spin-off content online. The potential for this stands to be great once Project Canvas, the web-enabled video-on-demand platform being developed by UK terrestrial broadcasters, is up and running.