Credit: Quantrell Colbert/Lionsgate
The movie Uncle Drew is due to hit movie theaters on June 29th. It’s a sports-themed comedy with well-known actors like Tiffany Haddish and features actual basketball stars such as Reggie Miller and Shaquille O’Neal. It’s also a feature-length, PG-13 ad for Pepsi.
The Uncle Drew character (played by Kyrie Irving currently of the Celtics) first appeared in a fictional docuseries created for Pepsi. The ads earned 10 million views in less than a month, inspiring Pepsi to create a 30-second Uncle Drew ad played during the NBA finals. Chants of “Uncle Drew” were heard whenever Irving played in a real-life NBA games.
Now, this feature-length film (with a screenplay and production budget partially funded by Pepsi) is set to be one of the biggest long-form branded content projects since The Lego Movie, which grossed $469.2 million at the box office.
Pepsi isn’t the only one going Hollywood with branded content. Publishers Buzzfeed and Vox are both developing longform content as they seek to expand their revenue model — Buzzfeed alone is working on a R. Kelly documentary for Hulu, a “behind the scenes” newsroom show for Netflix, and and a show about the unsolved murder of a Mississippi teenager for Oxygen.
But why would a brand like Pepsi want to make a feature length movie or series? It’s a uniquely long term investment, with plenty of risk — but a successful movie allows for massive advertising reach, an additional cascade of social amplification and earned media, while not hitting people over the head with the same top-line brand message found in most brand campaigns. Lou Arbetter, general manager of Pepsi Productions, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “Everyone has so many marketing methods coming at them so often that it’s tough to break through. You want to create things that people actually want to see.”
Audiences love content, including branded content — if it’s truly entertaining. Half of all viewers of original digital video surveyed in March said they believed ads can be “beneficial and fun.” 80% of those surveyed in 2012 by Edelman said that ads should entertain them. Nielsen’s 2017 Millennial study revealed showed that 79% of 18-34-year-olds believe that advertising is necessary for brands.
The relationship that consumers have with content - and the willingness to consume it regardless of the awareness that it is advertising in some form - is part of why we are seeing a major growth in brand content offerings designed to serve niche audiences (a phenomenon we’ve covered before).
Podcasts in particular are an interesting way for a brand to hypertarget an audience — last week PRWeek had a roundup of the way brands are developing podcasts to both increase brand equity and market secondary initiatives. Home Depot’s Give Me an H podcast discusses work culture at Home Depot to target job seekers. Work in Progress (created by Slack) showcases stories about the personal meaning of work (likely targeting the side hustle crowd).
Jimmy Chaffin of DVL Seigenthaler/Nashville was quoted as saying that their recent Jack Daniels podcast — which tells the stories behind how the whiskey is made and the celebrities who love it — surpassed reach goals with relatively little marketing. He explained: "If you overmarket it, I think people will turn it off, because people aren’t looking for an ad. A podcast is meant to be something pure and something that people discover organically or through word of mouth, rather than heavy promotion."
Branded content (especially digital) allows brands to create in-depth messages for smaller niche groups without being in conflict with the main brand message, and potentially most importantly — subscribe to a channel, podcast, or email list. There’s also less risk of ad fatigue if the audience feels that the content is made with them in mind.
It’s official: Accenture has opened their own media buying unit, a move heavily criticized by 4A, the advertising industry’s lobby group. It’s the biggest move yet by one of the world’s largest consulting firms into the realm of traditional agency offerings (especially after many technology-based acquisitions they’ve made since 2017).
This puts even further pressure on media agencies similar to the trend of brands shifting programmatic advertising in-house. The challenge is on for agencies to prove their unique offerings in 2018.
It’s easy to see where this pressure is coming from: Among concerns like brand safety, technology now allows brands to have more direct control over campaigns than ever. Getty Images’s recent partnership with SaaS platform Cortex is a good example — Cortex helps brands automatically curate images for content to be published on social channels.
What are agencies to do? Lean into creative differentiation. Last week, Publicis announced their plans to stick with this trend via the new AI platform Marcel. On this platform, employees from every global branch of the agency will be able to pitch work for consideration by a client, allowing the agency’s total creative force to come together. Employees in Singapore can request assistance and be immediately connected with the appropriate team member in Atlanta or anywhere else in the holding company. Meetings and briefs will be more easily shared across the agency.
It’s time for agencies to show why their model has persisted for decades even as technology has changed around them: Creativity and unique capabilities. Crispin Porter + Bogusky are a great example of this in their relationship with Domino’s Pizza, constantly coming up with fun new ideas for ads (including one homage to Ferris Bueller) while increasing sales for 25 straight quarters. They managed to balance the needs of a highly digitally-centered company with fresh creative to propel sales.
Brands have more power to dictate media buying and other tech-based tasks. It’s up to agencies to use technology to their own benefit.
In the midst of fear around GDPR rule compliance, The Financial Times turned off its ad spending on Facebook. At the same time, publishers like The New York Daily News and the Orlando Sentinel shut down their websites to European usersrather than risk breaking the rules on data collection, and the Washington Post has now launched an ad-free “EU Premium” offering at $90 / year.It makes sense. Anyone who took the time to get in touch with their audience had a lot less to fear from GDPR regulations than everyone else. Close relationships with subscribers, which The Financial Times has been willing to invest in, are proving vital, as those users have already clearly opted in — and are thus far less likely to opt out.
In the short term, GDPR will result in some email lists being culled and a spike in users opting out. But in the medium and long term, good quality content will produce more dedicated customers overall. If someone’s logged into a site or has chosen to subscribe to a newsletter, they’re a more reliable consumer than someone who just sees an ad. Long term, the impact of GDPR is going to be limited for brands that produce great content and are successful and generating subscribers or other forms of opted-in readership or viewership.
Curated and published by Adam Orshan, Brit McGinnis, Janelle Elfar, and Matt Levin in New York City.