Imagine you’re walking down a grocery aisle, passing the variety of dairy products. Your eyes hover over different types of milk and cheese as you think about what you want to cook your family for dinner tonight – and then they stop at a specific brand. Right then and there, the recognition of this type of cheese reminds you of earlier today when you were watching the brand’s YouTube channel and a recipe video on how to make Tomato Basil Pizza. You reach for the product, you grab the product, and you trust the product. You put the Kraft Natural Shredded Cheese into your cart while you start puzzling together the rest of tonight’s ingredients.

What may seem like a simple affinity for a product is actually a result of strategic content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute defines the term as a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action. It brings consumers information about the product without making them feel targeted or bombarded, allowing them to develop a relationship with the brand. The strategy has worked for Kraft, with the company getting four times better ROI (Return On Investment) from content than traditional ads. They market their food to individuals (as opposed to segments), creating a trendy and entertaining way of engaging consumers. The hook clearly lies in content. 

Coming off the heels of our “Pulling Focus” panel, The Brave New World of Content and Commercials, it felt necessary and appropriate to examine how this shift is emerging in Washington State. The panel’s discussion ended with each participant agreeing that there is mutual opportunity for both client and agencies – the clients learn to market their product in new and unique ways, while agencies get to employ singular artists to create and carry out the content. Local companies like REI and Microsoft are engaging in bold marketing strategies that employ branded entertainment and eschew the traditional commercial models.

Seattle-based writer and video producer Thomas Kohnstamm was able to give us extra insight into how corporations are approaching the new world, and what roles the artists and production companies play.

“The technology industry is at the forefront of this move,” Kohnstamm explains. “They realize that they must have solid storytelling tactics to engage consumers because the old model of press releases and commercials isn’t engaging people in a personal way or the way it should in 2014. People are ignoring banner ads and regular commercials, and instead are migrating to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest. That’s where the audience is, and companies see that and try to fill those sites with alluring content.”

Kohnstamm notes that product placement is a huge part of branded entertainment, as well. “There’s a movement around producing branded entertainment that’s solely a push for the product – it works, but entertaining should be the first and foremost objective. After you have that down, companies and production agencies work to create a natural and authentic tie to the product.” Kohnstamm cites the Ray-Ban™ “Never Hide” campaign that shows unique people playing by their own rules, and makes the sunglasses appealing and accessible – the ads use storytelling to hook people and create a level of association.

“More specifically, in terms of the technology industry,” Kohnstamm explains, “They will work to create content about their employees. Alongside production companies, companies produce short pieces and stories about the people who work at their corporation – they profile their unique and cool jobs. These bits change the conversation and perspective of what it’s like to work at this tech company and why these roles are important.”

Kohnstamm highlights Washington as an environment that is taking significant advantage of content-marketing. “Washington has so many great production companies, but also huge technological corporations that can take risks in marketing and have deep enough pockets to experiment and invest with producers. This combination of creativity and industry is exciting, efficient, and cutting-edge.”

Kohnstamm also sees the relationship between these large companies and production agencies as symbiotic. “As this model becomes more mainstream, there will definitely be more interplay between the two. It will be interesting to see, once the idea of branded entertainment truly grows, how these corporations forge direct relationships with individual studios – rather than using other companies as middlemen. Hopefully, the model will evolve into the possibility of in-house production. Washington has so much talent here – once more direct relationships are created, companies will start to deliver better value to clients and the opportunities and jobs associated with content-marketing will rise.”

Branded entertainment is an undeniable shift in the world of production and advertising, but it is equal parts exciting and comforting that such a change will benefit each piece of the puzzle.

park novAbout Thomas Kohnstamm: Seattle-native Thomas Kohnstamm is a writer and video producer. He creates branded video storytelling for the likes of Microsoft and Caffe Vita through his companies Subtext Studios and Knuckle Sandwich Studios. He is also hard at work on his second novel.