Sharpie, the 161-year old permanent marker brand, and Derek Jeter’s Players’ Tribune, a 3-year old a media company that provides athletes a platform to connect with fans through first-person stories — are launching a new branded content series that will include written articles and video narratives from athletes like Aaron Rodgers, Chris Paul, Alex Morgan, and Aaron Judge.
This content portion is part of larger campaign with many levers including contests ($50,000 in prizes), special edition products (athlete-signed markers), and celebrity endorsements.
What’s interesting about the Sharpie partnership is the role of authentic, influencer-created content that puts storytelling first. The players will be telling their personal stories in support of Sharpie's "Uncap the Possibilities" campaign and sharing their personal journey with fans. The Players Tribune is obviously uniquely well positioned to create this type of content, and we’d venture to guess that they were involved in the creative ideation more broadly for the campaign.
There are interesting parallels here to two campaigns we’ve covered previously:
Another added benefit for brands working with publishers that have these built-in relationships is effectively being able to conduct brand safe and compliant influencer marketing at scale — as the publishers are intimately involved in editing and managing the content creation process.
This helps avoid issues that continue to crop up with influencers large and small — the most recent example of which is DJ Khaled’s sponsored post snafu from last week when it was disclosed that DJ Khaled had failed to label brand partnerships as ads and as a result, his alcohol-related content had been delivered to underage social media users. And it’s not just brands that are elevating brand safety to the C-suite - Digiday reported this week that agencies are now establishing brand safety officers too.
There’s a reason brands are putting more content front and center in brand and influencer campaigns — it drives better outcomes. A study by Engagement Labs released this week found that creating shareable content is a main driver of organic chatter and brand amplification.
Because of the algorithm changes on Facebook that limited organic reach and prioritized engagement, organic engagement and chatter has become more valuable for driving campaign ROI.
This ongoing convergence between branded content, influencer marketing, and leveraged multi-channel distribution isn’t just a fad — it’s born out of the basic fundamentals of what works in our current platform and media environment. The winners are going to be the brands, publishers, and influencers that realize this, build the strategic capabilities and moats, and execute vs churning out another article or series of social media posts.
The concept is pretty simple: instead of allocating fixed budgets before you run a campaign to certain paid content distribution platforms, you run a series of small tests across different networks and platforms to find which ones are optimal for that particular piece of content. We break down the secrets and the surprising power of this "flexible budgeting" strategy here.
Square, the small business payments platform, has notched some serious film industry cred for their short film “Sister Hearts”, which was nominated for the SXSW Grand Jury Award and received quite a bit of critical praise and coverage. This was the fourth documentary in their “Dreams” short film series, which highlights the dreams and stories of entrepreneurs who’ve overcome adversity to create economic opportunity.
But this isn’t your run of the mill branded content campaign. Instead of integrating their brand prominently into these documentaries, Square decided to run a bold content experiment instead.
In the year since their series launched, they’ve only released 4 documentaries. There’s almost no brand integration in them. The videos don’t display Square’s logo or mention it in any way. It’s a risky strategy.
This is effectively “moonshot content marketing.” Making this pay off means generating massive virality and subsequent earned media, or being picked up by earned media directly and generating coverage from winning awards and generating reviewer coverage. There is almost no opportunity for content repurposing into smaller, bite-sized, more shareable content. It’s all or nothing.
Square’s strategy was focused on earned media and critical attention — they don’t have much total viewership on YouTube, but that wasn’t the point.
According to creative director Joanne Torres, “This campaign could have easily ended up another demo. A barrage of proof points in the this-app-is-easier-than-that-app pissing contest. Instead, Square used their resources to do something far more ambitious: they made something interesting. In doing so, they made themselves interesting.”
Square’s experiment is at one extreme end of the brand integration spectrum.
The Lego Movie — dubbed the “greatest branded content ever” by The Mission and a “cinematic advertisement for Legos” by Adweek— is the best example of large-scale branded content marketing campaign to date on the extreme end of the brand integration spectrum, supported by a massive variety of content. From the name of the movie to almost every frame containing a Lego, the movie also created microsites, video miniseries, clubs, video game networks, social network for children, and more which helped the movie gross $469.2 million worldwide.
A couple of weeks ago, we covered an approach more in the middle — the Mercedes-Benz and Henry Rollins partnership for a campaign to introduce the new X-Class trucks to a new audience in Australia, where the trucks were featured prominently in much of the footage.
Another example of a more integrated brand campaign was a content series called “Worn Wear” from Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear brand, which highlighted the personal stories of their customers who used their products for a long time. This campaign combined solid brand integration with content reusability and multi-format distribution — the stories were first published on their blog, then moved to Instagram, until finally, Patagonia turned the most interesting customer stories into branded videos.
Note of course that Patagonia is one of the kings of creating video with much less brand integration, particularly documentaries and cut-downs covering world-record outdoor accomplishments like the first free ascent climb of El Capitan.
Of course, brands aren’t the only ones taking content moonshots; publishers are too. When Viceland, Vice’s TV channel was launched, it’s content — described by Wired as “hard to digest, but stimulating all the same” — was unlike pretty much anything available on a major cable network at that level of production quality. This week, The Drum published an interesting article on the ongoing evolution of Viceland and the bold bets they are making.
Vice’s bold moves make sense for them from a publisher’s perspective. Publishers still live and die by audience growth, and viral sharing, earned media, and opening up new organic audience segments are the cheapest ways of getting it.
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, instead of talking about specific changes in how metrics in certain content categories are moving, we wanted to take a minute to talk about percentiles. With any benchmark, a single number is only so useful: what makes benchmarks the most useful is when you can apply them to your specific situation. With that in mind, below are benchmarks for Social Actions and Page Views, broken out into a few key percentiles.
Overall Page View Benchmark: 12,656
Page View Percentiles:
Overall Social Actions Benchmark: 523
Social Actions Percentiles:
You should read this as “the top 1% of branded content gets 69,153 Page Views and 3,799 Social Actions in the first 30 days after publishing”. At SimpleReach, something we talk about often is the 90:10 rule, which states that 90% of outcomes come from 10% of content — which we’ve seen in previous analysis. These percentiles offer yet another data point proving that there is a huge gap in the performance you can expect from your best content and your worst, which is why in content it is so essential to find and double down on your winners.
Curated and published by Adam Orshan, Matt Levin, and Samar Owais in New York City.