Branded Content: More Than Native Ads

My entire Navy career was spent telling stories, and I loved my job. I came in as a journalist (JO) and we converted to mass communication specialist (MC) right at my ten-year mark. The jobs were basically the same. We did public affairs, or public relations, sometimes as our primary mission, but always in the background. I wrote news stories and features, took photos, created video stories and did broadcasting, which included radio, television, and spot (PSA) production. I just loved telling stories, no matter what the medium.

When I retired in 2016, I knew I wanted to keep doing that. In January 2017, I started working on my associate’s in communication, and two years later, I had my bachelor’s and started working on my master’s at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University.

I attended my first immersion in March at Syracuse. I knew I was going to have to write a blog about it afterwards, or at least one of the topics. The most difficult thing was picking just one topic.

However, when Melanie Deziel presented about the power of branded content, it changed everything I have ever thought about the topic, and provided me information that could be helpful in any area I choose to pursue.

First of all, I have always thought that I hated native advertising. I hate when I get halfway through an article that promised me information I need, only to find I’m reading an ad for a probiotic.

What Melanie made me realize is that I just don’t like poorly done native advertising. When it is taken to the next level and becomes branded content, everyone wins. The consumer actually gets something, whether it is information, entertainment or both.

The piece she wrote for the New York Times for Netflix and “Orange is the New Black” was a-ma-zing. It was the epitome of what I learned in my first multimedia storytelling class. It did it all and still threw in OITNB at the end, without being disruptive.

The brand gets attention from a receptive audience, and the content creator gets a satisfied feeling from a job well done, or maybe even recognition and awards. Our Social Times ran an article that talked about three such branded content “ads.”

The first was done by the New York Times, which ran a VR story about refugees after giving away one million Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers. It won the Entertainment Grand Prix at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

The second was called “The Boy Who Learned How to Fly,” a cartoon that told the story of Usain Bolt. Gatorade sponsored the ad, but it only appeared sporadically, in places that you would expect, like Bolt drinking it or as an ad in a stadium. It has almost 15 million views on YouTube, which is pretty impressive for a seven-minute video.

The third is from Samsung and tells the story of a man using an antenna wired into his head to “hear” colors. Samsung is never even mentioned in the video, but gets credit at the end. It won Tribeca Film Festival’s first branded content award in 2016.

So, Melanie’s presentation made me think this might be something I could do, but I wondered how could a person come up with a great idea to tell a great story that will be so compelling people won’t mind an ad associated with it.

Fortunately, she gave us that information as well. Melanie gave us a formula that boils down to focus X format, pointing out that story is more important than story format. So, she gave us 10 ways to focus and 10 ways to format. By throwing those into a content matrix, that provided 100 story ideas, or at least ways to present them in an interesting way. That is more than three months of daily stories or nearly two years of weekly stories.

A few of the focus ideas were features, overviews, and deep dives. Some of the formats were written, video, and infographics.

But then she gave us multipliers that gave another way to tell those 100 stories, including things like season, budget, and demographic. I’m not great at math, but I think all of that added up to 800 ways to tell a story. My mind was blown.

Even if I never get into working in the field of branded content, that information will help me take my Women and the Military blog to the next level. Ooh, speaking of that, I need to get back to working on it. It’s just a hobby for now, but I really enjoy it.

For now, the lessons I learned in that presentation can help me at both of my jobs. At the Frederick Food Security Network, I am trying to do more with social media, and to reach out to the urban community in Frederick to get involved. Telling compelling stories is one way to do that.

For my job at the Veterans Services Office at Frederick Community College, we just started a newsletter, so for the emailed version, I can include many of the story ideas there as well.

Featured image by from Pexels

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