The early weeks of every year always produce a raft of predictions about the future of everything and 2013 has been no exception, with a large amount of noise about the future of advertising, social media and, in particular, content marketing. There is loud agreement in the industry that we’re on the verge of a tipping point for content marketing, echoing research published by Econsultancy in late 2012 that quoted a figure of “over 90%” of UK marketers and their agencies believing that it would become more important over the next 12 months.
However, there are still barriers. According to the Econsultancy research, amongst the biggest hurdles for both clients and their agencies are a lack of understanding, a lack of content creation skills and a lack of interesting content. From our own qualitative research amongst a number of marketing decision-makers in the UK, the area they need the most help with is video content and the challenge of shifting their organisation’s thinking beyond traditional TV advertising campaigns towards useful and entertaining video content that will work hard for their brands in an always-on and increasingly televisual world.
A good way to look at this is through the lens of Mark Earls and John Willshire’s recent contribution to The Wharton School’s Future of Advertising Project. Posing the question “What Is Advertising In 2020?”, Earls and Willshire’s advice is to “focus less on the short term, exotic fireworks” and to “create the space and licence to light many fires”. They talk about advertising being increasingly about demonstrating your purpose, exemplifying your character and being genuinely useful in some way.
This can serve as an inspiring manifesto for video content marketing. The advice we give marketers is to think about audiences, the way a broadcaster would, not consumers. That’s our recommended starting point for the development of an effective content strategy. Once you start thinking about what the audience wants to hear from your brand you can start to develop an editorial positioning and a video content plan with features that every broadcaster would recognise, for example seasons, appointment-to-view moments, live events and preview trailers.
Beyond the heroic exploits of Red Bull and Nike, there are still relatively few non-media brands behaving like this in a consistent way. Notable exceptions can be found most prominently in the world of fashion, a shining example of which is Burberry. Over the last couple of years Burberry has acted increasingly like a sophisticated digital media brand with a continually-refreshed flow of video-rich online contentspiced up with genuinely newsworthy highlights, for example 10 year old Romeo Beckham’s show-stealing appearance in the Spring/Summer 2013 Collection.
By contrast, despite a handful of isolated examples of highly creative and entertaining content marketing projects in other sectors, the majority of these still feel more like bigger and longer-lasting fireworks than enduring efforts to stoke the bonfire of a great content brand. Take the automotive sector. Volvo Trucks’ Ballerina Stunt, a dramatic film in which highliner Faith Dickey battles to cross a tightrope between two speeding trucks before she crashes into a tunnel, has attracted a huge amount of attention and nearly 7 million YouTube views, but none of this drama or excitement is sustained on Volvo’s web site.
A more current example is the revival of 80s action hero, MacGyver, who appears in a series of three slick web films for the new Mercedes Citan. Although this is admirable and beautifully-crafted work, it still feels like “long advertising”.
Most agencies and most marketers still find it difficult to think beyond the conventional model of the ad campaign and “spots in breaks”. For example, look at the commercials showcased in this year’s Superbowl, probably the most spectacular advertising firework show of the year. However, it’s interesting that so many advertisers this year, including Coke, VW and Taco Bell, put so much energy into fanning the flames of their pre-game “bonfires”, seeding video teasers, previews and other pre-game content on YouTube, their own microsites and across social media.
If 2013 really is to become the year of content marketing, look out for many more marketers thinking beyond their next campaign and following the lead of brands like Red Bull and Burberry in putting video content at the heart of their marketing strategies.
Andy Bryant is director of creative at Red Bee Media.