The Grill NYC: Maker Studios and Pepsi Say the Future of Advertising Is Less Branding (Video)

Maker’s Erin McPherson and Pepsi’s Ken Strnad talk about staying authentic when targeting millennials at TheWrap’s conference

The next wave in branded content is minimizing the brand — and even the advertisers agree.

Maker Studios’ chief content officer, Erin McPherson, and Pepsi’s senior director for branded content and entertainment, Ken Strnad, joined TheWrap‘s Lucas Shaw Thursday at TheGrill conference in a spirited conversation about how to ally brands with cutting edge internet videos — and not angering young viewers in the process.

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Pepsi and Maker (which was acquired by Disney this year) have partnered on a number of videos, including a remix of old baseball classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which debuted last fall during the MLB playoffs. It isn’t a traditional commercial like you might see Pepsi debut during the Super Bowl — and that was on purpose.

“The audience is savvy in knowing when a brand is involved,” Strnad said, “and if you’re going too heavy with a brand presence, you can cause damage to the brand and YouTuber.”

Getty Images
Getty Images

Strnad commented several times on the need to not shove the logo or brand message in a viewer’s face; that aggression can backfire, because millennials are going to refuse to accept brands that tamper with their experience and interaction with content.

“I’m not a 17-year-old video gamer, and that’s okay, but I need to understand that, I need to understand that channel and the content coming out of that channel and what folks are looking for,” Strnad said.

“And there’s a large organization that I sit at and we have to bring people along for that, because often the content we create on these channels don’t look like a traditional television commercial — because they’re not. You have to make sure they know the landscape has involved.”

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McPherson, who came to Maker from Yahoo, agreed that it’s the advertisers that need to adapt to the format.

“In this medium, content should fit the platform,” she told the crowd. “YouTube is a unique platform. It doesn’t have a single front door, it has a million side doors. Marketing isn’t like traditional marketing, it’s organic, it bubbles up from the bottom. Things do have to start organically. Our creators instinctively know this.”

In fact, Maker takes its cues from many of the online celebrities features on its networks and beyond.

“As a programmer and content creator at Maker, I look to them when we’re producing content in house,” she added. “It’s like, what would a YouTuber do? It’s a very intimate relationship.”