When the creative directors of digital ad agencies arrive at their client’s offices to discuss video, a huge communication gap sometimes opens up. “Video?” asks the client. “You mean like a TV spot?” Educating clients about how branded online video needs to be created and presented becomes a big part of the job. Here’s what creative directors want their clients to understand.
First Thing First: Branded Video Is Not TV
“TV delivers a captive audience, so you can produce any kind of ad you want because you’ve already committed to the media buy,” says Supercool Creative’s executive creative director David Murdico. Attracting attention online is an entirely different challenge. “Branded video must be entertaining, informative, or educational in a way that makes the viewer want to watch,” he says. “Your brand just comes along with it, especially if you try to work it into the narrative of the video.”
Ryan O’Hara Theisen, founder and executive creative director for Lucky Branded Entertainment, agrees. “You’ve chosen to tell a story that’s sponsored by a brand, and you’re putting it out into the world of the internet and hoping that it’s an intriguing enough story so that people are going to watch it and share it of their own volition.”
Chuck Conner, president of Ignite Media Works, lays it out this way. “We try to explain it in terms of today and yesterday. Advertising doesn’t work like it used to. You need to meet people where they are today, not where they were yesterday. You’re meeting people who are turned off by traditional advertising, so you create editorial content with very subtle branding and avoid hitting them over the head with a marketing message.”
Try a Daring Creative Approach
“The word we use a lot is ‘brave,’” says Theisen. “This is cowboy territory. My DNA is in viral videos, and that’s always in the back of our heads. You need to create something highly engaging, especially if you’re going to put it online only because you’re asking for people’s valuable time, and there’s so much clutter out there.”
Murdico has a similar philosophy. “The content has to be funny, engaging, and clever, and the concept has to tie into the brand. That’s important because recall matters. We’ve all seen incredibly funny commercials or branded videos, but a day later we may not remember what the brand was. You can’t let that happen.”
The message to clients: when your agency comes in and proposes something way out of the box, don’t dismiss it offhand. They know what it takes to cut through the online noise.
Balance the Entertainment and the Pitch
Murdico cites President Obama’s appearance on Zack Galifianakis’s “Between Two Ferns” as the perfect example of balancing entertainment value with a strong branded message. “The White House was clearly asking ‘How can we use your platform to reach your audience your way, but with our brand?’” That’s what branded video must do, he says: walk a fine line between the entertainment and the pitch. “You have to have some kind of sell in or around it, or the CMOs and CFOs will wonder if it can actually increase sales.”
Murdico acknowledges the struggle to find balance. “The higher up you go on the message, the lower you go on entertainment value. The higher you go up on entertainment value, the lower you go on the message. It’s hard to hit right in the middle.” His pick for a company that threaded that needle successfully: Dollar Shave Club. “The spot was in your face and honest. No one cared that it was a commercial because it was so funny.”
Theisen’s first question to a client is simple: how intriguing is your story? “It helps to think about it as a filmmaker first and foremost. Is this a story that will captivate audiences and have them talk about and share it? A documentarian or filmmaker will take an amazing idea and run with it in a truly creative way. We do, too.”
Float in an Ocean of Content
Smart distribution is another big component of a successful branded content strategy. “Think of it as a stream, a river, and an ocean,” says Murdico. “You can drop a great video in at the top of a stream, but it needs to get it to the river to have even a small chance of making it all the way to the viral ocean, where it may or may not get noticed.” That’s why digital agencies also need to be adept at clever, if non-traditional, media “buys,” which can mean anything from paid placement and PR to seeding influential sites or blogs. Paying for a million views is acceptable if the viral nature of the video will generate ten million additional hits.
“I recommend seeding to most of my clients,” Theisen says. “You have to get in front of a lot of eyes quickly to have the potential to grow exponentially.”
Embrace the Digital Difference
Often, large traditional agencies turn to digital-first agencies for help with when branded video projects arise. Why? “Branded video can take a considerable amount of unlearning for those who have come from a traditional ad background,” Theisen says.
Conner, who runs a fast-moving agency, agrees. “We recently finished a project that involved four major shoots. We shot 65 pieces of short-form content, and traditional agencies know how time-consuming and expensive that would be for them. We were able to go from concept to shooting in 60 days and ended up with great results including 30-second pre-roll spots and longer spots up to two minutes, all of which we spread out across social media to reinforce the brand in an entertaining way.”
Conner boils down his philosophy to four critical points: “The quality of content you’re going to create must be outstanding. The concept must be compelling. It must tie back to the brand in a smart way. And you must distribute the content the right way to make sure it’s visible.”