By Tom Bannister
Although Thanksgiving and Black Friday are home to one of the year’s best known cases of branded entertainment, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Black Friday marketing is more about direct marketing than it is about the brand marketing generally associated with brand funded content. Black Friday lends itself to direct, interruptive messaging regarding specific deals on specific items, and customers, hungry for sales information, are more receptive to those messages than at other times of the year. Brands jump straight to the two particular phases of the purchasing cycle (awareness and point-of-sale) and ahead of phases in which brand-funded content is often deemed most useful. Indeed, digital conversion rates soared to 5.37% (of site visitors making a purchase) and last year branded email open rates increased by approximately 10% in the days proceeding Thanksgiving.
Yet 2015 saw a number of brands rise above the noise by utilizing more sophisticated brand funded content campaigns. Below we examine a few before drawing conclusions:
#OptOutside — REI
REI cleverly used Black Friday as a way to create awareness around company values of environmental consciousness and healthy outdoor lifestyles. #OptOutside includes videos, social content and even a letter from the CEO. The 30-second video format makes this campaign more advertising than true brand-funded content, but the irreverent, indirect sell of the content leans towards the branded content sensibility. #OptOutside was one of the top four most tweeted hashtags of Black Friday.
#VSHaul — Victoria’s Secret
In a cross platform campaign, Victoria’s Secret tied in announcements about their upcoming show (Dec. 8 on CBS) with news about their Selena Gomez partnership and encouraged YouTube and Instagram users to post their shopping hauls. This should be categorized as content marketing rather than branded content, but getting customers to recommend the product to their friends is crucial in a number of phases of the digital purchasing cycle including driving awareness.
Snoopin’ Around — Old Navy
This is Black Friday’s best example of filmmaking and branded content, with entertainment value that makes it more than a mere piece of marketing. The campaign paird a 2-plus minute comedic mockumentary video starring Snoop, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kumail Nanjiani with radio ads on Pandora and a social media component (although the radio ads felt pretty awkward and sales-y.) This campaign wasn’t just announcing black Friday deals, but a million dollar competition, thus explaining the use of more sophisticated assets.
2nd Look — Bellefaire JCB
This was a live event stunt, incorporating an unexpected and clever idea, which was viral and delivered its message perfectly. Unsuspecting shoppers were introduced to “live” mannequins portraying homeless teens and encouraged to share a PSA online. The opportunity for brands to do more live entertainment-skewing installations in their stores during Black Friday seems to be particularly untapped this year.
Jeremy Clarkson — Amazon
In time for Cyber Monday, Amazon launched this comedic film presented by Jeremy Clarkson. It isn’t quite a mockumentary, but it’s set in the “not too distant future.” It promotes both Amazon Prime and Amazon’s upcoming drone delivery service, so it’s both direct and brand marketing. At times, the video feels more like a corporate product demo as Clarkson lists Amazon’s attributes, but his curmudgeonly personality makes him a unique and distinctive spokesman for this time in the calendar, and therein lies the entertainment value.
Overall these uses of branded content are generally for specific, anomalous campaigns, which are outside of the traditional black Friday approach. Most brands tend to use the content of direct marketing (short information on specific deals) along with media best suited to that, such as email campaigns, social media, TV and interruptive advertising. The subgenres of brand-funded content most in use (content marketing, long form advertising) tend to be best geared towards similar phases of the purchasing cycle (driving awareness and point of sale). And yet the few cases of branded content do show that going against the grain and doing something differently can have powerful effects. As with Halloween, there is an opportunity for brands to stand out among the culture of direct messaging with more sophisticated content, especially as shopping begins to migrate online and filmmaking becomes cheaper. Why not rethink out to make your branded destination a stage in 2016?