NASCAR revs up in-house content team to unify creation and distribution

Credit: WFAE

NASCAR is restructuring its entire content operation to bring social, video, editorial, influencer partnerships, and distribution under one core team — providing an intriguing case study in how to build an in-house content machine. While we’ve already seen brands bring content studios under their roofs — Mastercard with Storylabs, Pepsi with Creators League, Walmart with Spatialand— there are two crucial aspects of this NASCAR development that are different:

  • They’re bringing creation and distribution together.
  • They’re incorporating celebrity and influencer assets into the mix.

With a network of celebrity influencers at its fingertips (hi Jimmie Johnson!), NASCAR is now using that talent to create serial branded content like podcasts and web series. (As a publisher, the brand produces a variety of content already, including a YouTube talk show, Facebook Watch Series, and Snapchat Stories.) This is different than just the traditional celebrity media partnership. Think Lincoln and Matthew McConaughey’s strangely hypnotic and hilarious commercials— producing those is a very different ballgame than getting McConaughey to say, record a podcast every other week.

By bringing creation and distribution together, NASCAR can also effectively budget, produce, and deploy unified campaign messages across platforms.

“Bring [the entertainment, production, and social teams] together and we now have knowledge on how to sell a show, how to create content for social platforms and the ability to actually create high-quality content,” said Evan Parker, managing director of content strategy for NASCAR. “It’s not something that would have been easy to do in the old model because those three teams would not be talking to each other as they are doing every day today.”

The cost and transparency benefits

In-house creation isn’t just good for content quality and smarter distribution. We’re also starting to see the cost benefits of this model: Unilever saved 30% on production costs by bringing more content creation into its in-house operation, U-Studios.

In some cases, brands like The Royal Bank of Scotland are combining in-housing of content capabilities with in-housing of programmatic, to ensure more transparency in buying, and to be able to exert more control over ad tech, data management, and incorporation of insights into the content process.

RBS isn’t alone. According to the Association of National Advertisers, more than a third of advertisers are reducing the work they give to agencies after bringing programmatic in-house. Why? They want to run the strategies themselves while leaving agencies to wrap up with post-campaign reporting.

Not so fast, brands

Agencies have their own point of view about the great in-house migration, as evidenced by these off-the-record quotes from the Digiday Media Buying Summit:

“The in-house thing isn’t really happening. What is happening is that clients are trying to take media buying in-house, then flaming out.”“The silver lining to anything going in-house is they still keep us around for part of the buying process like inventory management. The nice thing is we now have someone on the client side who knows what it’s like.”

As NASCAR’s move shows, brands are getting smarter about in-house contentdevelopment and the need to integrate strategies and channels — especially as content marketing becomes an essential part of the marketing mix. The picture is more muddled when it comes to programmatic capabilities where many agencies have built up significant tech and expertise.

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Nestle was able to hit 50 million views on a single branded content video — not because of luck, but because of great strategy and tactics. How can brands repeat this type of success? Over the last 7 years, we’ve seen winners consistently do these 5 key things.

How Reddit, Pinterest, and The Athletic point to a new future for publishers

Credit: Popsugar

Most digital publishers are still trying to navigate two major monetization challenges:

  • Facebook’s algorithm changes — Should they migrate to new platforms? New forms of revenue — How can they grow some or all of paid subscriptions, branded content, and e-commerce?
  • The good news is that there are a lot of interesting developments happening in both of these areas. And they point to big opportunities for publishers to be successful.

Looking beyond Facebook

Now that Facebook’s algorithm changes have claimed early casualties like LittleThings and Rare.us, publishers are looking for opportunities to drive engagement on other platforms — and some platforms are preparing to welcome them with open arms.

Reddit — a historically enigmatic platform and a hard nut to crack for publishers and advertisers — is finally getting serious about building relationships with publishers. They’re launching new features like profile pages and native video hosting, and starting editorial collaborations with publications like Time magazine. (Need more than a TLDR on Reddit? Here’s a deep-dive exposé the New Yorker just published about world’s 6th most popular website.)

Publishers are also looking to Pinterest to replace some of their lost Facebook traffic. In response, executives from publications like Time and PureWow say that Pinterest reps have become more proactive in helping them find success on the platform. For example, Pinterest worked with Time to develop Pincodes — QR codes that users can scan on mobile to access special content on the social channel. Pinterest also launched the “Tried It” button, which users can click on Pins like recipes or DIY projects.

Still, not all publishers are fleeing Facebook. Attn, a social video news startup that’s almost entirely dependent on Facebook, is leaning in with a revamped strategy despite losing traffic from the platform.

Finding new revenue opportunities

PopSugar is now selling its own line of beauty products, which will be available in Ulta Beauty stores — a retailer with a history of advertising with PopSugar. This comes on the back of news that BuzzFeed’s Tasty is selling its own kitchen tools in Walmart — also a retailer who’s advertised with them before.

Is this a new revenue model emerging? Is it the solution to publishers’ revenue woes? As we know, publishers have been trying to figure out e-commerce for a while now. Some sites like Thrillist and JackThreads haven’t been as successful as they had hoped, while others like Glossier found their footing. Perhaps more will take a page from PopSugar and BuzzFeed’s playlists and start selling their own products in the near future.

Meanwhile more publishers are finding ways to succeed with subscriptions. Sports sites are knocking the cover off the ball with paid subscription revenue, like The Athletic which now has 100,000 subscribers who pay $48 a year for access to content. This is great for publishers, but marketers should be wary: If more sites put content behind a paywall, there may be less opportunities for brands to buy ad spots — unless they’re incorporated into the content as branded articles.

Branded Content Benchmarks: Social Actions drop, Engaged Time spikes

SimpleReach Branded Content Benchmarks

We’ve just released the monthly update to our Branded Content Benchmarks, which aggregates branded content performance from across our entire network. (Check it out if you haven’t yet.) This data reflects the performance in the first 30 days in a content item’s life after being published.

This month, these stats stood out in particular:

  • Social Actions dropped by 4%, with the biggest drops in Arts + Entertainment (16.2%), Style and Fashion (7.9%), and Business (4%). Sports was the lone category with meaningful improvement (up by almost 10%). This will likely decrease further as the effects from Facebook’s algorithm change become more pronounced.
  • There was a meaningful spike in Average Engaged Time for content published in January vs. December — this is counter to an ongoing trend we’ve been seeing where it actually has been broadly declining. Check out this table:

We’ll know in a few months whether this is an anomaly or potentially part of an interesting trend.

8 more browser tabs to open

  1. Formula One is the latest sports brand to follow in the footsteps of WWE and launch an OTT service. And the Church of Scientology is too.
  2. The key to Universal Orlando’s influencer program’s success? Giving the influencers free reign to create whatever they want.
  3. In case you still had hopes, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made it clear that they’ll never have ads.
  4. Under Armour is mastering the Snapchat ad format with 5-second videos.
  5. Bots aren’t entirely to blame for fake news. Human nature makes us click on false information, according to this massive new MIT study.
  6. Watch out, trolls: Twitter is looking to revamp the verification process.
  7. The New York Times’ first narrative, non-fiction podcast serial is a documentary mini-series on the Islamic State.
  8. Facebook is getting more selective with vetting shows for Watch amid concerns around inventory quality and brand safety.

Curated and published by Adam Orshan, Amanda Walgrove, and Matt Levin in New York City.

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