By Tom Bannister
This week, NBC announced that American Express sponsored, behind-the-scenes content would air instead of some commercials on hit shows “The Voice,” “Blindspot,” “Today” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” Viacom announced the formation of Velocity Content Network to “go beyond the standard commercial” and, lastly, Vice Media CEO Shane Smith made good on his plan to “f — k shit up,” because he believes Hollywood TV execs “don’t know what they are doing.” Vice’s new cable channel Viceland announced that it would carry just eight minutes of national ads per hour, with the goal that half of these be “native ads” (branded content) within the year.
A lot of the commentary focuses on branded content’s role in digital ecosystem, but less so on its place in traditional media. Outside of breaking news and seemingly politics, traditional media’s cultural influence still surpasses digital’s, with digital media often acting more as traditional media’s echo-chamber. Big TV hits tend to drive much of the digital conversation, the biggest social media stars (outside of YouTube) are traditional media stars, and the world’s largest sporting and live events are still broadcast on TV. BuzzFeed might surpass the New York Times in monthly, impressions but opinions voiced in the Times have greater cultural and social influence. Now, arguably, the Times just needs to find the right business model to capitalize on that influence. TV is in the same boat. Clever marketing strategies at the Grammys and the MTV Awards are rarities and could be extended better to their other hit franchises.
Here’s a look at recent branded content campaigns that used traditional media rather than digital:
TV Take Overs
Perhaps the most well known to date comes from the U.K., where Lego took over 3.5 minutes of network air time to recreate infamous commercials of other brands using Lego figures. The Lego Ad break was seen by six million people on TV, plus a million more on YouTube. However, 2015 saw a number of examples like “Tomorrowland”’s takeover of Sports Center on ESPN and Obama’s climate change themed Bear Grylls special.
Native Print Ads
Both the New York Times and Washington Post have run print native ads in the past 18 months. The New York Times ran an eight-page native print ad for Shell entitled “Cities Energized,” along with the memorable, simple dragon silhouette beneath article copy to promote “Game of Thrones.” But perhaps the most creative example is Vangaardist Magazine, which printed an entire issue using blood donated by HIV patients.
Sports Orientated Native
Sports events present both massive sponsorship and audience opportunities for brands, but also obstacles, often in the form of protective leagues and associations. Brand integrations are sometimes sanctioned, like Samsung’s Slider in Australia’s rubgy league and sometimes not, like United Food Program’s 805 million names stunt. Sometimes, they find a clever way to cut through, like Volkswagen’s Soccer Fatigue Sensor in Brazil. Indeed, the Olympic Games just allowed non-Olympic sponsors to run advertising starring Olympic athletes during the games.
Sponsored Radio Stations
We’ve seen sponsored channels on Sirius and IHeart Radio, but perhaps the best example of a radio station takeover is also in Brazil. To drive attention to gay-related hate crimes, Billboard Brazil organized a gay pride-themed radio takeover in which 33 stations played music by gay artists such as Queen and Pet Shop Boys, drawing attention to the little known fact they were/are gay. Aimed at decreasing anti-gay hate crimes in South America, the message of Gay Radio Pride parade was “you cant hate what you love.”
Whether you see them as entertainment experiences with valuable merchandising or branded entertainment initiatives in and of themselves, there is no doubt that feature film launches like Hasbro’s “Transformers” and “The Lego Movie” have revitalized those brands. We have even seen more niche branded feature launches such as Mountain Dew’s “We Are Blood,” Werner Herzog’s “Low and Behold” at Sundance and, announced this week, Adidas’s skateboarding feature “Away Days.”
So far this year, Cheerios turned a billboard into a beehive for 100,000 bees, but perhaps the best interactive billboard in recent memory was British Airways Grand Prix-winning Magic Of Flying, in which an interactive child traced actual planes across the sky in real time.
Indeed, billboards and their relationship to cell phones is an interesting example of new technology creating new ways to use an old technology. The Lindy Effect posits that the longer a technology has been used, the longer its life expectancy, challenging our notions of disruptive technology. Does NBC have a longer life expectancy than Netflix? Much digital branded content on digital platforms risks ubiquity through overuse of uniform two-minute brand films and direct brand messaging on social platforms. At the other end of the spectrum, it is at risk of disruption due to ad-blocking, the rise of e-commerce and crowd culture. Traditional media could well find opportunity in this turmoil and there is certainly an opportunity and need for really big swings in the branded content sphere. As Mark Thompson of the New York Times and BBC recently put it “Everything we do should be worth paying for.” Perhaps we will see traditional media execs start to beat Mr. Smith at his own game.
This post was penned by VideoInk publishing partner Branded.tv, a one-stop shop for branded entertainment. Branded.tv features and catalogs the best branded entertainment campaigns from around the world.