Fuse Fridays: Stop trying so hard to entertain me… or try harder?!

I read an article last week that claimed spend on “non-working media”, namely production, was on the rise. “It’s because of all that content!” I hear you say, but actually that’s not right. The driver cited in the article was ad production budgets; a need to pump up production values and create mind blowing ads just to overcome the growing inclination that people have to switch them off.

This got me thinking.

Why, in an industry that puts the consumer first, are we paying more to fight against the trend when it comes to advertising? This isn’t new news: DVR viewing is on the rise; streaming is growing in popularity at an exponential rate; ad blocking is now a feature of Apple’s iOS 9!; and publishers are also promoting ad free subscription models.


Google promoting a subscription model without ads through YouTube Red

One of the answers is content, but even now studies regularly report over half of all marketers still don’t have a plan. Of course there will always be a need for advertising. I’m glad H&M booked their outdoor campaign to inform me they were opening at Broadway, and that Clinique sponsored a post on Facebook to let me know about the results of their moisture surge face cream. In fact, I don’t even mind being chased around the Internet by those shoes I looked at last week on The Iconic.

But by the time I get home from work, cook dinner and clean up I have limited viewing time before bed. I’m not keen to give any of that to a series of 30 or 60 second branded blockbuster advertisements trying to ‘surprise and delight me’. At least not when I have a choice.

Most of these ads are created to build brand advocacy. They don’t add value to me short term like the ‘opening soon’ ad by H&M.  But what’s the solution if you want to be a loved and trusted brand because an ‘opening soon’ ad is pretty transactional? One solution is for brands to stop competing with entertainment and instead become part of it.

Qantas achieved this with Ready for Take Off, a series created from the ground-up, which documented the highs and lows of running Australia’s most trusted airline. The show aired on Nine Network in prime time and regularly topped its ratings timeslot. But more importantly it delivered results for the brand – scores like “makes me think Qantas is an innovative airline” up 37% and over 90% positive social sentiment. Pepsi achieved this another way; by having their brand written into a three episode plot on hit US TV show Empire. Not just product placement, but an actual storyline where a lead character collaborated to produce a fake Pepsi ad… that then became the real Pepsi ad! Mind. Blown! Oh, and GE; they developed a sci-fi podcast integrating their technology called The Message and it took the number one podcast position over the likes of Serial and This American Life.

Clearly these are big, creative examples and not all brands has such budgets, but they get you thinking. How can we work with the networks, publishers and creators that are experts in attracting the audiences we are paying for the privilege to interrupt? They also illustrate limitations of traditional brand ads and how there are other creative ways to tell a brand story.

Regardless of budget however, all content and integration requires planning, collaboration and a true understanding of your audience. Often it even means relinquishing significant creative control. But the trade-off is successfully finding that sweet spot where a brand story is seamlessly embedded in programs or articles, or is reflected by the right influencer content that consumers opt-in to read, watch, listen or experience.

So when marketing budget discussions are happening and there’s an objective to build brand advocacy, I encourage thought around what complimentary content formats can help bring a brand story to life: add the right content partner or sponsorship integration to the media plan; collaborate directly with a production company to create original programming; inspire the right influencer to do something with your brand you would never have expected, or brief a social network to curate content on to bring to life your brand message. In a world where marketing budgets are under increasing scrutiny, there is always more than one way to skin a cat!

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