How can we do work that people are going to pay attention to? That’s the question at the heart of all content, but in this case, James Del, vice president of programming at Gawker Media, was talking about the push behind brands and their thirst to create branded content. Creating work that people will pay attention to requires an entire team of people, according to the panelists in “The Future of Branded Content,” a panel held today at the Streaming Media East conference in New York City.
With representatives from agencies, publishers, and platforms on the panel, the importance of collaboration was top on everyone’s mind.
“Ideas are still an endangered species,” said Jason Harris, CEO and president of creative agency Mekanism. So he said it’s important that everyone get behind whoever happens to have the best ideas, whether that’s a publisher, a marketer, a PR person, or the brand.
The panelists agreed that branded content is hardly new.
“The future of branded content looks a lot like the past of branded content, to be honest,” Del said.
Jeremy Levine, senior vice president of digital sales at Live Nation, pointed to the beginnings of soap operas when the star of the show would turn to the camera with a box of laundry detergent in her hands.
“I look at it as building from the past,” Levine said.
Greg Rivera, senior director of advertising solutions at Microsoft, said one of the main differences between the branded content of yore and today is technology and all that it makes possible. For example, Microsoft was able to partner with Paramount Pictures to promote the upcoming release of its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie by producing a downloadable game for Xbox. It used the Kinect’s motion sensor capabilities to put users in the action. It wasn’t until players made it to the second level of the game that they were reminded the movie was about to be released in theaters.
Microsoft is also a strong example of why collaboration is important. Microsoft doesn’t create content in-house. It sees itself more as a platform with big audiences and a lot of partners, and farms out most content creation to outsiders.
Branded content can threaten editorial integrity, and different organizations deal with that challenge in a variety of ways. For Gawker, the wall between church and state remains strong. It doesn’t take down old posts to make advertisers happy (as BuzzFeed has), and concentrates on building reader trust. When a brand wants to partner with Gawker, Del said, readers know they can trust that brand. When Gawker wrote a diatribe against moist wipes in the bathroom, for example, Cottonelle seized the opportunity to sponsor the post after it had been published.
Does all of this mean the banner ad is finally dead? Not quite, the panelists said. Online advertising is moving to two different extremes. On one end is the programmatic solution, and on the other is custom content. It’s everything in the middle that’s getting squeezed out.
At the end of the session one audience member asked the question on the mind of many in branded content: How can people measure ROI? Be clear about the metric being measured even before launching the campaign, Del said. Rght now, it’s mostly about measuring brand lift, Levine added. But Rivera pointed out that when working with a partner like Microsoft, which has the ability to examine how people act after being exposed to a piece of branded content, it’s possible to know more about the campaign’s impact.
The long history of branded content makes one thing clear: It will continue to change in the future, but it probably isn’t going anywhere.