MIPTV’s “Superpanel: Turning Brands into Content Studios” panels both take on the question of brand (and oftentimes agency) involvement in content, from how agencies can work as executive producers with broadcasters and production companies, to how brands approach content creation (and ultimately distribution).
It was moderated by Campaign’s global brand director Adrian Barrick, and included PepsiCo Creators League Studio‘s GM, Louis Arbetter; Wargaming project manager Valeriya Tsygankova; and Marriott International‘s VP of global creative & content marketing, David Beebe.
Brands are under growing pressure to not just underwrite content but behave as content, but the bar is high for standing out in a content-saturated world. Still, there are visible successes, as Barrick pointed out at the session’s outset: “Some would argue the Lego movie was the best ad ever made, grossing $468m in ticket sales alone.”
But it’s also such successes that get brands wanting to run before they’ve even crawled.
“We’ve had some brand teams come to us and say ‘I want 3 feature length films out of the gate’” and shunning TV, said Arbetter. “You need to get them to understand you can’t turn it all the way up to 11.”
At PepsiCo’s Creators League Studio, “We go upstream into their strategy and the story they want to tell. Some of our brands are used to, ‘what is the summer season story I want to tell?’ They need a larger story,” Arbetter said. Once that’s identified, the team can decide how social, long-form, TV or other opportunities can play a role.
Illustrating that, Beebe spoke to Marriott’s ambition to “own travel”: “All our content … should really inspire people to travel” before selling hotel rooms, he said.
“With the scripted films we did of 20-30 minutes, our strategy was to move away from traditional marketing, which was selling features and benefits,” Beebe went on. “We use storytelling to showcase that without saying it—the rooms, the food and beverage experience.”
Marriott’s high-touch films were shot half in a hotel, half in the city. “The hotel was a character” in a wider story about the city, which sparks wanderlust, Beebe said. “The brand was just there, authentic to the story.”
They also created sales packages to reinforce both emotional connections and a sense of service. The sales package for its French Kiss film included a good Marriott rate, plus a meeting with the general manager, and a private tour of sites where it was shot (like Paris’ Eiffel Tower).
“Now our films are bringing money back in, so we’re covering the cost of them,” said Beebe. “Because we produce in a way that the brand is just part of the story, a lot of distributors don’t view it as branded content.” Instead, it gets licensed as original content the only happens to come from a brand. (Though we can’t help but wonder what RTL’s Rozestraten would have said.)
Arbetter touched upon the many opportunities technology provides, calling VR interesting and AR a space with a lot of opportunity. But PepsiCo doesn’t just do things because they’re new; “even existing platforms like Facebook 360, we’re building content just for that,” he said. “I don’t think some of the existing technology is fully realised in terms of how we can tell a story.”
Barrick praised how Empire’s latest season will be done mobile-first, a project PepsiCo played a critical hand in, which PepsiCo’s vp-marketing and cultural connections Adam Harter discussed when the brand won Brand of the Year today.
“Everybody says certain things—like ‘I want it to be mobile-first’,” Arbetter laughed. “There’s a difference between writing it in a brief and actually having the understanding to bring it to life effectively. Some of the work we do with Empire does a great job of truly being mobile-first because, in fact, it’s not available anywhere else.”
Some briefs boast ambitious goals but lack commitment to see it through, including from an investment perspective, he added.
Referring to Wargames‘ own technological activities, Tsygankova said, “We use VR to give our players the opportunity to feel like they’re sitting in a tank, looking around.” Augmented reality is also used in a separate app, where people can use an existing shot of a known area and put a ship in it. “We use it for fun, and entertainment and to give the opportunity to spread the word about us.”
“The CMO and CTO should be best friends, tech and marketing are tied so closely together now,” Beebe praised. “One of the coolest technologies we’ve used in our real-time social media command centres is called Hypersocial. In Marriott’s case, we geofence all 6700 hotelsto capture all conversations taking place on social, public conversations. It’s a whole system platform that alerts you.”
Examples of conversations Hyper captures can include someone tweeting “enjoying the wedding” or “having a great time at the pool” from a Marriott location, “whatever it may be,” Beebe said. “They may not tag us, but because of this technology we can capture that and make a decision about what to do”—like send the tweeter a bottle of champagne, poolside, then see if they reply.
And they usually do. Marriott gets an 82 percent or higher response rate when it engages with customers via Hypersocial.
“That’s another piece of content. Even though it’s social, it’s more content being developed,” said Beebe.
As we wound down, panelists shared their views of how best to facilitate content productions with or as a brand.
“We’re the bridge to the creative community. Whatever brand needs come through the door, we help refine and define those stories, we’ll go to the right storyteller for that brief,” said Arbetter. For example, when Gatorade wanted to tell real-life stories about athletes, it was combined with documentary filmmaker David Darg.
“When the right storyteller is matched to the right brief, you get great results,” he said. Gatorade’s campaign, Win from Within, was ultimately accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival. “How it’s done is the trick.”
Tsygankova touted the importance of creating a single cycle in which fans play a critical role. For Wargames’ films, “we work in close connection with players,” she said. “If they’re interested in a special ship, video production” facilitates that. “We’re never separated; we’re totally included in one cycle.”
“What’s changing is the model and how content’s being produced,” said Beebe. “People who say ‘mobile-first’ or ‘TV’s dead’, I don’t believe in that. Great content will get watched. You need to market it.”
He said one of the biggest mistakes brands make is that they fail to invest in marketing. “But you can bring a brand, prod company and producer together to tell a story,” Beebe went on. “What’s new is, brands realise that by investing in those projects, they can actually be a part of it, own IP and actually start to build a media business versus just renting an audience.”
He concluded, “We’re kinda going full circle, right back to soap operas and P&G.”