My folks and some friends always ask me how many people read my blog. I tell them that I never look to see, and they ogle at me with a baffled look. Why not, they ask. And I respond: blogging isn’t about counting, it’s about connecting. It’s not about how many people are reading, but who is reading and why.
I have never been more happy to be a blogger than when I received this response to a recent post titled Been There, Done That. Here it is:
I regularly read your blog posts and am always intrigued by your thoughts on marketing. I also happen to be the person who came up with the idea, and wrote and directed the two new projects for Lincoln and Mercury. This morning I read your post regarding the sites, and wanted to chime in with some thoughts that might open up some debate.
I think perhaps it is true that this content may not be successful branded content, but only because it isn’t branded content at all. Its something significantly less trendy, but much more powerful. Its sponsored content.
I believe that marketers have dropped a crucial tenet of the implied contract with the viewing public- reciprocity.
The fair deal that existed between the marketer and the audience began in the fifties with the concept of sponsorship. A program was “brought to you by” the marketer, and therefore the bond between the audience and the content often became a bond between the audience and the marketer. There was some allegiance to the sponsoring brand due to the fact the sponsor provided value by subsidizing stories they believed in. Its not terribly different from Elizabethan England, Italy during the Renaissance, or 20th Century China in that commissioned works of art were a good way for the government to develop a relationship with an audience that was otherwise disconnected from them. Brands took that model of the commissioned work, and extended it successfully into television- briefly.
Its not news to you that the sponsorship model has eroded from “brought to you by” to “interrupted by” as marketers disrupt popular stories and experiences by inserting themselves at a rate that is intolerable to any audience that is passionate about the content.
In the projects we have created over the past six years, we have found that content “Brought to you by” the marketer drives interactions with brands at a level exponentially higher than messaging that interrupts the content. It is so unexpected that the entertained viewer actually seeks out the sponsoring brand, and wants to reward them with the gift of their time.
I am not a big fan of the term “branded content” because it already implies that we need to break the pact with the consumer immediately by stuffing the brand into the story. There are certain instances where I think this may work, and many others where it absolutely does not. Brands like BMW and Mini are iconic and it is perfectly natural for them to be heroes in their stories- and therefore the content should be branded. Brands like Burger King, that are inherently un-iconic and fairly un-cool can be converted in a different way. Under the guidance of CPB they have managed to deflect thoughts of their awkwardness and second place status by embracing it through parody and absurdism. It works. People follow the content Burger King creates, and the products (oddly I still know that it is called the BK Tendercrisp) are suddenly top of mind with an audience who would care less about it two years ago.
Brands like Lincoln and Mercury face a different challenge- they suffer from a lack of debate. Its not that there is a negative position about these brands among a young audience, often there is no perception at all. By introducing a story, and admittedly a weird one, people take sides. They debate. The brand ends up on a side of that debate- the side that loves the content. This group not only shares their passion with others who disagree, they also feel an allegiance to the sponsor, and they show it. Last year when we launched Meet The Lucky Ones, our intent was to stir up some talk among thought leaders. That happened, but so did something else- people bought cars. In fact, about 500 people who discovered the brand through the content purchased a Mercury vehicle. The brand also received PR that was unparalleled in the last two decades. The content was featured in The NY Times, on MSNBC, and CNN, and was on many advertising top ten lists for the year. And all of this was funded by a budget less than the average TV spot. Again- this was not branded content at all. It was quite unbranded, and I believe that was the key to its success.
Often when a marketer brands their content, consumers catch this disingenuous effort immediately and spit it back out with the same contempt as other forms of advertising that interrupt the content. This is why we create something different- unbranded content.
This year’s projects, theneverything.com, and lovelybysurprise.com both extend this idea even further. The content is from an upcoming independent film release, and feature a level of talent not normally associated with a project like this. All of the actors have successful careers in Film, TV and Theater. Several have been in Academy Award nominated films, or are in very successful TV shows. The cinematographer on the project, recently shot Brick, winner of The Sundance Special Jury Prize. They all came onboard because they loved the project and believe in this new model. This level of talent, and the planned feature release of the film provide even more staying power for the brand. Hopefully people will be talking about the content for months or even years. Perhaps this is optimistic, or even unrealistic, but it aspires to something that few ads can- resonance.
I hope you follow the films through all five weeks, and find the connection between the sites. I also hope the film has a life and you get to see it. I believe if that happens and we are still talking about this in a year, then we have succeeded. So far the results are stellar. Again we have long view times, extensive coverage in the blogs, and an audience that is coming to learn more about the brand- without having to brand it at all…
The post is from Kirt Gunn, the director of the spots and the visionary for the films. First of all, I am totally flattered by his interest and readership. Second, I am wholly inspired by his thinking. Third, I applaud his vision wholeheartedly. He’s spot-on. I will follow these films closely.
But most of all, I hope that you, dear readers, are inspired too. And if you are a marketer thinking of paying big bucks to slap a logo or drop a product into content…think again. Then call Kirt. He can make a bring sing…without having to brand it at all.