SXSW: Moving branded content to the next level

Canadian Media Directors’ Council board member and VP at Havas Media Maura Hanley is in Austin at SXSW. Here’s her take on the way forward for native advertising and branded content. 

There’s a lot of discussion about branded content at SXSW this year: traditional publishers struggling to fund news and quality editorial, digital players that just want to give us what we want and brands trying to engage consumers.

Traditional publishers like the New York Times, presenting at several sessions this year, have moved beyond native advertising that resemble the advertorials and sponsored content of the past. The Times’ Orange is The New Black feature, paid content which created buzz with its mix of video, charts audio and 1,500 words to talk about female incarceration in the United States, is still being discussed.

To create new revenue streams, publishers have established in-house creative and production teams to collaborate with advertisers and agencies. Production departments maintain the “church and state” separation of editorial and advertising, while the sales team’s focus remains on selling a valued audience in a trusted environment. The mantra of quality and engagement continues to be the defence against programmatic buying.

As a counterpoint Ben Lerer from Thrillist Media Group declared – in his presentation “Back to the Future of Media”  if you are renting your audience, you are going to lose. The Lerer model invites brands to participate in a way that is “native” to the editorial environment, with relevant e-commerce-enabled content. If he is correct in his assertion that only 17% of digital ad spend will be non-programmatic by 2017, then traditional publishers better start exploring more innovative business models.

And what about brands? A Tinder stunt pulled off at SXSW, promoting the film Ex Machina, that engaged potential daters with a fake profile, has been getting a lot of buzz. I’ve heard several people remark that maybe it’s not cool to fool people.  The stunt may have got press but did it sell tickets? A panel entitled “We Are What We Click” made it clear that gaining an audience in the attention economy is not an easy feat and measuring the result can be even harder. There is no way of knowing in advance what will gain traction and brands are advised to have multiple versions of content that can be optimized for different platforms, devices and audiences.

One theme that has been consistent across every presentation is the need to deliver relevance and value by staying true to what your brand stands for.

As Mikala Bierma from BuzzFeed said: “You can trick people into clicking but you can’t trick them into sharing.”

And I would add to that “or reading, caring, or buying.”

Read more:

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FACESofCHANGE: Engage Youth

An article about my last study, done in partnership with, in this month’s VUE.

The full text is here:   FACESofCHANGE

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Filed under High Touch Media, Research, Transmedia

Media Habits Visualized

Media Consumption - 2011
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The Power of the Visual

It seems to me we have reached a stage where the image is more important than the word. We haven’t arrived at a post literate society – the written word isn’t going anywhere any time soon –but we do have the ability to create images and video with greater density of meaning than ever before. Even more significantly, we can create them easily and share them widely.

Have you noticed the explosion of infographics? Our minds can absorb an incredible amount of information at glance. I saw a great demonstration of that at the MRIA conference when Alli Marshall flashed a graphic on the screen for just a second. Everyone could identify that the circle showed an 80/20 relationship. We are immersed in data, hungry for meaning, yet also impatient and pressed for time. Infographics in their many forms have the power to rapidly deliver both data and meaning. Here’s some links to my favourite sites exploring some of the best:

Video is another powerful way to share information. Chris Anderson has a terrific TED talk on the subject.

Not only are we showing and telling overtly in a video, but we impart a great deal of information through our tone, expression and body language. With video cameras in our phones and YouTube at our fingers, creating and sharing video has grown exponentially. Have you seen the infographic on YouTube stats released last year? More than 13 million hours of video were uploaded during 2010 and 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day. We are sharing information and meaning at an incredible pace.

The power of the visual is a potent tool for anyone working in research or data analytics. The challenge working with infographics is to distil the essentials and deliver meaning not just facts. The challenge with video is letting subjects speak for themselves while ensuring the salient surfaces.  To communicate meaning, we must mediate information and data and become story tellers.

I have been exploring harnessing the power of images and video to share consumer insights with marketers and more effectively bridge the gap between information and meaning. I put the data and the videos from my FACESofCHANGE:Youth study together in a PREZI for the recent MRIA and Banff World Media conferences. Check out this dynamic alternative to powerpoint and take a tour of my prezi. It’s a format that begs for powerful visuals, beautifully supports the use of video and focuses the mind on compelling story telling.

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Measuring multi-channel activity

The challenge of tackling the measurement of multi-channel and transmedia activity was a consistent theme at last week’s eMetrics conference inToronto.  Head scratchers included:

  • How do we know how many same or different people we are attracting to the various channels? There is no cross media reach and frequency measurement.
  • What does each channel contribute to the success of the program?  We don’t know the first channel that brought someone to our story or the one(s) that led to outcomes such as fandom or sales.
  • How can we measure and value engagement?  Different channels invite different levels of interaction – how much more is one worth over another?  How do soft measures like time spent or Likes correlate with hard measure like sales?
  • How do we capture the value and/or implications of where fans take our story?  They may be setting up their own tribute Facebook pages or posting derivative videos on YouTube…
  • Can we understand and harness temporality? People are interacting with our content concurrently (but not all the time) and sequentially (but not all in the same order).  We also know there are latent effects, but when and to what degree?

Several people at the conference posited that consumer centric versus channel centric measurement is the only way we are going to begin to answers many of these questions.  It is often bemoaned that we’ll never get there given how entrenched individual channel measurement providers, methodologies, and currencies are.  A unified approached to audience measurement has been talked about in Canada for many, many years.  It certainly seems that it should be possible in this country given we have a single source for each mass medium and all are non profit tripartite organizations (media/agency/advertiser) except for online (comScore).  It also seems that is should be more possible today than ever before given new technologies like PPM.   However, it also seems to me that it is still a tremendous undertaking to provide a unified view of mass media audiences when we know that email, community papers, out of home and a myriad of other activities will not be captured.

What to do? Here are two things marketers can work on right now:

1. Focus on outcomes and establish KPIs (key performance indicators) up front.  Know what success looks like and measure it consistently.  Higher order metrics like sales and brand favourability tracked over time enable opportunities to tease out media mix effectiveness through testing and regression analysis.  Yes this approach is backwards looking, a limitation in a rapidly changing media environment.  But the bottom line is the bottom line – focusing on what success looks like avoids analysis paralysis and ensures you are not measuring just for the sake of it.

2. Conduct cross media consumer centric measurement to establish values particular to your brand or category.  Panel research costs are low and the potential return on investment of establishing your own norms is high.  Knowing your brand’s audience relative to any channel’s audience and the value of an impression to you versus what it is being sold at is an incredible advantage from a buying perspective.  Building your channel investment strategy from your consumer’s perspective may mean significant departures from conventional best practices in terms of how much TV, how much online, etc. and lead to improved ROI.  Also by conducting your own consumer and brand centric research you can uncover what is really being noticed and retained by consumers, enabling you to build more powerful stories and deliver more effective messages.

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Story Telling vs. Integration

I’ve been working with Andrea Hadley, eMetrics Conference Director, on putting together the “Transmedia and Multi-Channel Media Experience” panel for this month’s Toronto conference and we’ve been discussing what sort of panelists we should include: content producers versus marketers.

I asserted that a multiplatform advertising campaign qualifies as transmedia story telling if the messaging engages an audience with a brand narrative across platforms/mediums.  Andrea made the point that entertainment groups seem to have a better understanding of leveraging each medium for its unique value by producing unique ways to engage and in many cases unique content for each medium as opposed to repurposing the same content across each medium.  I had to agree that that is the case more often than not.

It wasn’t so many years ago that the dialogue around integrated marketing centred around the importance of having a consistent message in every channel.  Given budgets, timing and quality control that typically meant exactly the same message (copy, visuals, offer) reformatted for each channel used.  No one wanted to confuse a consumer or waste an impression by deviating from a single minded campaign message.  Today, to play effectively in that “high touch” end of spectrum you need to add to or augment the brand story in each medium.  It’s more possible now than ever before and more importantly, consumers expect it.

Ad noticability correlates with relevance.  People pay attention to what they are interested in and when they are really interested they want to get involved.  As part of a research project I’m working on, I talked to a number of 18 -24 year olds about advertising.  Over and over they recalled ads that appealed to interests they already had and expressed disappointment at incidents where they felt like the messaging ended in a dead end – pulled into websites and Facebook pages that didn’t provide more information or any real interaction.  I asked my 17 year if he could tell me about a campaign (good or bad) that he’s noticed recently.  He mentioned the current 5 for 5 Taco Bell campaign.  Good news: he’s in the target market!  Bad news: his criticism was that the online banner ads were identical to the subway posters – enough all ready.  Seems like a missed opportunity to me. (BTW while his perception is that the ads are every where and he’s being beaten over the head, I’ve not noticed them at all!)

One of my favourite transmedia stories is Bitchin Kitchen.  A well articulated brand with solid content that offers a different experience in each channel (TV, web, Facebook).  You can enjoy each element on its own, but they work together to deepen appreciation and engagement, turning audiences into fans.  The brand look and feel is consistent in every channel but the specific content/message is appropriate to the particular time and place.  Fun stuff and way smart too.

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Yesterday I was asked if my idea of polarization was basically high touch = brand building activity and high tech = direct response.  I don’t thinks so.  In fact, I also don’t think this phenomenon is limited to media:  it a applies to marketing communications as a whole.

Sure brands are looking for love when they engage in high touch activities – consideration, preference, loyalty.  But these campaigns very often also involve opportunities for sampling/trial, being rewarded for referring new customers and other direct actions more closely tied to sales.   The win is engagement with the brand, not engagement with the message.

Direct response marketers have certainly been early adopters at the high tech end of the spectrum.  But package goods advertisers and others looking for awareness and influence play there as well – they want targeted, efficient, optimized, unduplicated reach and controlled frequency.

What does this look like from a creative rather than media perspective?   At the high touch end we see a focus on the big idea that can run across any media and by taken up by the consumer.   At the high tech end, dynamic creative is the goal – copy, images (and of course offers) are assembled from a pool of assets and optimized on the fly.  Again, ads and audience just don’t cut it anymore.

This phenomenon is happening in all areas of marketing communications.  In the social marketing/earned media/PR camp we see a ramping up of high touch activities with more emphasis on events and trans media story telling.  At the high tech end, we see earned and owned media optimized to drive organic search results and the quest to harness the power of social media monitoring.

I sat in on a “virtual microconference” this week that explored the high tech end of the spectrum and it’s impact on every single area of marketing.  The Future of Marketing 2: Technology-drivien Personalization had 60 speakers in 60 minutes sharing insights.   I highly recommend you have a listen.   Find out what leaders from CRM, Social Marketing, eCommerce, Public Relations, Advertising, Publishing, Media, Mobile, and more believe about how personalization is and will change marketing.

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Polarization part 2: High Touch

This is the sexy end of spectrum where we see experiential marketing, digital,  social and mass media marvelously orchestrated, compelling trans-media story telling, awards being won… Is this end of the spectrum the big win?  I love this video poking fun at it all:

Of course it really isn’t as simple as a just running a newspaper ad anymore – ads and audiences don’t cut it.   Here’s an interesting counterpoint: this campaign from the TVB was designed to show the power of television, but it clearly also illustrates no medium stands alone.

No doubt amazing things can happen when a big idea grounded in a consumer insight & on brand is powered by a well thought out combination of paid, earned & owned media.  Check out this award winner.

However, there are lots of challenges at this end of spectrum: nervous advertisers who want to see proposals but are reluctant to fund them, agencies expert in some channels but not all (and not always able to partner effectively), the incredible cost in labour to project management these campaigns, the importance of the illusive big creative  idea, and maybe most importantly, the uncertain outcomes – will consumers get involved and will this time and money payout?

The payout is a big question.   It’s a challenge to measure the effectiveness of each individual element and it’s a challenge to measure total campaign effectiveness; it’s almost impossible to measure the contribution each element made to whole.   I’ll be exploring metrics at this end of the spectrum at the eMetric Marketing Optimization Summit.  Look for me at the Transmedia and Multi-Channel Media Experiences session on April 29th.

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the polarization of media planning and buying

I’ve talked a lot about this trend at recent seminars and conference.  While the bulk of what agencies do is ads and audiences, I see that advertisers are increasing wanting to see more activity at the far ends of the spectrum:

The high tech end of the spectrum is a hot bed of activity.  Check out Terence Kawaja’s talk on this.

Does this crazy world matter to anyone outside the display advertising world?  I believe so.  As more media goes digital, what we know about distributing, tracking and optimizating online advertising will apply to OOH, TV.  This will completely transform the media buying business.

No doubt there are hurdles.  The  legacy systems and resources big agencies and media companies contend with make it difficult to profitably “retool” at the pace demanded – plus there’s still lots of manual labour and intellectual leadership required despite the automation you might expect.   The reluctance, particularly in Canada, to invest in what is seen as a smaller piece of the media investment pie holds us back.  (although this does seem to be changing with recent activity at  Bell as an example).   Privacy issues need to be negotiated – are we citizens or consumers?  Rights of way have to be navigated between content producers, rights owners and distributers – the struggle between disintermediation (, YouTube) and vertical integration (Rogers, Bell) will continue.  Fun times!

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Filed under High Tech Media, High Touch Media