Brand Storytelling Guide
The Branded Content Lifecycle
By Patrick Courtney, SVP of Marketing & Digital Strategy, Above Average
Brands should look to digital video as a smart content investment in the short-term, with the potential to grow into something even more valuable down the road
When it comes to brand storytelling, advertisers can start small and build big. It is possible for your branded digital video series to become the next network success.
Consider the case of Sound Advice, the web series by Jonah and Vanessa Bayer (Saturday Night Live) that Above Average produced and initially distributed. Featuring Vanessa as an aloof media coach who gives misguided advice to real musicians like Drake, it garnered millions of views in its first season.
That performance attracted Hyundai to sign on to exclusively sponsor and integrate within season two. When the 12-episode second season was later licensed to IFC’s online comedy portal, Comedy Crib, Above Average and IFC worked with Hyundai and its agency, Innocean USA, to create branded integrations both in the web series and in 60-second TV spots teasing the show.
Sound Advice’s content lifecycle is just one example of this emerging opportunity for advertisers.
As digital, social, TV and film converge, the ability to craft stories that are engaging and adaptable across formats and screens is increasingly valuable. Advertisers can act like traditional networks—developing, green-lighting, piloting and measuring the success of brand stories digitally before graduating the most successful to additional or bigger screens.
As a hybrid digital publisher and entertainment studio born out of Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video, Above Average is uniquely positioned to work with both brands and networks along this path. “We are fortunate to work with advertisers and networks who understand the value of developing premium digital content as an avenue for incubating IP which, when successful, larger programs can be built around,” says Jen Danielson, president of Above Average.
Above Average has helped pave the way for this more cost-efficient, measurable and lower risk development path for networks, just as it has helped brands like Hyundai.
TruTV showcases several successful Above Average short-form series on TV including 7 Minutes in Heaven, Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride and Cocktales with Esther.
Meanwhile, Storytime, originally an Above Average short-form digital series, was sold as a half-hour pilot to Comedy Central.
The intersection of IP development and brand storytelling is where things get exciting. Just think: If successful comedies born on the web such as High Maintenance or Broad City had been originally underwritten by a brand, there would have been an opportunity to follow that IP to network television.
Brands should look to digital video as a smart content investment in the short-term, with the potential to grow into something even more valuable down the road.
AT A GLANCE
Above Average creates original comedy programming for networks, brands and fans spanning digital, TV, commercial and social. Founded in 2012 as an independent subsidiary of Broadway Video, Above Average is a digital-first company with a 40-year television and film legacy.
Digital video and content
VP, Brand Strategy & Partnerships
ABOVE AVERAGE KEY PRODUCTS
The Last American Teen?
By Astronauts Wanted’s Insight Lab
It feels like we are witnessing something more profound than just a generational change from Millennials to Z
When we commissioned a Gen Z study, we expected to arrive at a handful of core findings that crunched down into tweetable sound bytes—the same way millennials have been crystalized (or over-simplified) into notions like “the trophy generation” or “nerds are the new jocks.”
What we found, instead, was something counter-intuitive. It seemed as if this next generation was not teen-like at all. They were more like mini adults, skipping directly from childhood into adulthood, trying to miss those angsty, messy, clique-y, self-expressive, rebellious, awkward, fumbling, wonder years.
Way back when, the generation that screamed for Elvis and The Beatles in many ways invented the modern idea of “the teen age.” Then came Gen X , which sharpened youth angst like a weapon. Millennials in their turn extended adolescence.
Gen Z looks very different. The question isn’t so much, “What flavor of teendom will this generation manifest?” It’s more like, “Are they even teens at all?”
In our Gen Z study, we presented contemporary song lyrics and asked which best represented the mood of this generation. The number one selection, from Twenty One Pilots: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days.” Twice as many respondents described themselves as “peace seeking” versus “change-making.”
Fully one third of the generation is seeking “normalcy” as the thing they crave the most.
What we’re looking at is an entire generation coming of age during a period of cultural crashing, where the economic and social fabric of America seems to be fraying and tearing.
Being a classic teen requires safety and space for carefree self-exploration, and Gen Z is not registering the world as that kind of place right now.
It’s more important now to sprint to the apparent safety of at least the trappings of adulthood. 60 percent of the generation thinks that you have to start “making it” while you’re still in your teens, with many looking to get on their grind while still tweens.
Small wonder that a show that feels like a return to the innocent “good old days,” yet simultaneously implies a world turned upside down, would be such a massive hit with Gen Z. Bravo, Stranger Things for a zeitgeist bullseye.
What’s happening generationally is much more complex than what we bubbled up. But to us it feels like we are witnessing something more profound than just a generational change from Millennials to Z. This feels like a tectonic shift in what it means to be young.
And this is why we pose the question: Are we looking at the last American teen?
Want to walk through the findings? Contact us at GenZ@astronautswanted.com.
AT A GLANCE
Astronauts Wanted creates premium programming that puts story first while tapping the zeitgeist of the youth experience. Its mission is to capture the imagination, eyeballs and fingertips of the next generation of content consumers. It is a joint venture between Judy McGrath, former chairperson/CEO of MTV Networks, and Sony Music Entertainment.
25 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Number of employees
Number of locations
Premium episodic series built for all platforms
Experimental storytelling on social platforms
VP, Business Development, Branded Entertainment
The New Technologies That Are Changing Storytelling
By Bonnie Pan, President, Endemol Shine Beyond USA
Today’s technological breakthroughs are providing storytellers with a new set of tools to engage and inspire viewers in innovative ways
Last April, Garret Madison set out to ascend Mount Everest for the seventh time. The world-class American climber, who had previously guided 37 others to the summit, again found himself leading a group into the most dangerous journey in the mountaineering world. Only this time, Madison and his team were seeking to capture the climb in a way that had never been done before—in virtual reality.
Today’s technological breakthroughs are providing storytellers with a new set of tools to engage and inspire viewers in innovative ways. Makers have only started to scratch the surface on the capabilities of immersive formats such as virtual reality, putting viewers in places they’ve only dreamed of visiting in real life.
Capturing Everest, a multi-part docuseries that will make its debut at Digital Sundance this week, incorporates groundbreaking video techniques for the first-ever complete ascent of Everest in VR.
The series, which will be exclusively seen later this year on Time Inc.’s new LIFE VR platform and Sports Illustrated’s website SI.com, is produced by Endemol Shine Beyond USA.
The story goes beyond the ascent to the personal stories of the participants. The team of climbers—in addition to Madison—includes: a female cancer survivor, an American Paralympian, and a three-time summiteer.
The challenges of climbing Everest are real and the average athlete will likely never get the chance to summit. The VR film is able to bring the reality of Everest to climbers around the world without any of the risk.
Viewers have a real shot to make it to the top in the series with a free afternoon and a smartphone.
The digital studio of Endemol Shine North America, Endemol Shine Beyond USA is focused on developing stories that incorporate new technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, with leading artists (writers, comedians, musicians, directors) serving as storytellers.
These storytellers and technologies are focused on music, comedy and reality formats that have the ability to live digitally native and often benefit from digital-first global development.
AT A GLANCE
Endemol Shine Beyond USA is the digital studio of Endemol Shine North America, focused on developing original series across a wide array of platforms.
Recent productions include:
Keys of Christmas:
For YouTube Red.
Exclusive production partnership.
Original series with Sports Illustrated.
Global lifestyle network with Michelle Phan.
Legends of Gaming:
Global eSports series.
2017: The Year Brands Embrace Fandom
By Alan Beard, CMO, Fullscreen Media
Fullscreen has created the most integrated fandom-fueling offering available to brands
As we exit the grand era of interruptive advertising, brands—if they want to remain relevant—need to become part of the storytelling ecosystem. Freed from the limitations of traditional communications, clever brands will make breakthroughs in becoming embraced members of true fandoms.
Here’s how Fullscreen defines a fandom: Fans talking to each other about something they love. We have studied the consumer journey and the rise of influencers through six years of deep behavioral data from 6 billion social video views per month on the Fullscreen Creator Network and billions of data points and engagements on Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook/Twitter from tens of thousands of branded social posts through clients of Fullscreen Brandworks and McBeard.
What we found was simple: Chasing fleeting relevance through the hashtags of the moment can be perilous and empty. But creating a story intended to connect fans to each other is powerful and fun.
True brand fandoms cannot simply be bought. They’re fueled. When loyal, passionate fans connect with their friends and followers to be part of a dialogue designed with them in mind, that’s where you’ll find your fandom. But you won’t control it. You don’t own it. And it isn’t about you. Is there something your brand can truly love that isn’t itself?
When brands can find a mutual love with fans—something that makes sense for both parties to love—they can enter into the fandom as welcome participants instead of intruders.
Brands that try to co-opt fandoms get roasted. The list of hashtag-riding brand screw-ups is long and painful. Make your content and interactions fan-driven.
Ask yourself: Will our fans love that we’re part of this conversation? If this wasn’t a trend, would our brand ever talk about this topic? Can we use our resources to fuel a sustainable fandom instead of pouring brand gasoline on the daily hashtag dumpster fire?
Fullscreen has created the most integrated fandom-fueling offering available to brands: Influencer collaborations, original video series, subscription VOD, live events, social media strategy and content creation for all platforms.
We fuel fandoms where they are, in the way they consume and share, and use their language to share mutual love. Fullscreen could have settled for being the world’s biggest influencer marketing company, but we saw that fandom overall is a much more dynamic and multifaceted world.
Fandoms have shown us fan-focused storytelling will always be more powerful than brand-focused storytelling.
So stop adding fans and start fueling fandoms.
AT A GLANCE
Fullscreen Media is a global leader in social-first entertainment experiences serving creators, brands and consumers.
Data & Analytics
FULLSCREEN KEY PRODUCTS
Storytelling in a Snap
By Sara DeCou, Executive Producer, Naritiv (WeBuyGold)
Snapchat provides a space for users to be constantly involved in the development process as it grows
Every brand is trying to figure out how to speak to millennials, so it’s little wonder that Snapchat has quickly moved to the top of their list for driving authentic conversations with this high-in-demand demographic. The challenge for many brands, however, is coming up with ways to take full advantage of Snapchat’s platform to build audience and engagement.
What makes Snapchat so desirable? Most obviously, there’s the sheer volume of the audience. Snapchat attracts 150 million daily active users (spending 30 minutes daily on the app) who are sharing more than 10 billion videos per day. That’s an incredible amount of user interaction—users who are engaged in a new form of storytelling that’s highly personal, mobile and modern.
Snapchat users log in to watch stories. And every marketer knows how powerful a good story can be.
Here at Naritiv, we’ve spent the last two years helping brands like Freeform, Disney, Coke and MAC build their presence on Snapchat. The brands we work with have gotten over 1.7 billion views with 8 billion seconds watched to date. We know what works and what doesn’t—because we’ve developed technology that provides our clients with relevant data that lets them make more informed decisions.
Brands who think they just have to take their traditional media and format it to a vertical screen are missing the point. So are those who “snap” only to check a box on their social strategy. They need to start thinking about using snaps as elements of a larger, more personal story.
Now we’re taking the next step with the launch of WeBuyGold, our mobile-only lifestyle brand that will provide a generation of the curious and creative with unparalleled access to compelling people, places and ideas.
While traditional publishers have used the Discover platform to wade into Snapchat, we’re taking a different approach. WeBuyGold will launch where the masses are—directly on Snapchat Stories.
WeBuyGold will contain a wide range of formats, mixing up serialized, docu-style, hosted and one-off pieces of content. It will feature a range of personalities, from known celebrities such as DJ Khaled and Jhene Aiko, to charismatic experts in selected categories including artist Chloe Wise and internet director Jack Wagner (aka Versace Tamagotchi).
Ultimately, the WeBuyGold Snapchat channel will act as an incubator to grow and expand features to multiple platforms and longer form content.
In order for brands to be successful, they need to listen to their audience, and Snapchat provides a space for users to be constantly involved in the development process as it grows.
Human curiosity is timeless and boundless; we’re harnessing and fostering it in an entirely new way.
AT A GLANCE
WeBuyGold is a mobile-only lifestyle media brand that provides a generation of the curious and creative with unparalleled access to compelling people, places and ideas. It is being launched by Naritiv, the platform that helps brands grow and thrive on platforms like Snapchat.
To support WeBuyGold, Naritiv will use its proprietary, industry-leading social measurement tool focused on Snapchat to grow and engage audiences and be responsive with programming.
The Key to Brand Storytelling
By Wendy Wildfeuer, SVP, The NBCU Content Studio, NBCUniversal
An elite team that can empower marketers to create premium original content and distribute it at scale
Viewers today are drowning in a sea of content. Now more than ever, it’s critical for marketers to break through the noise and make real, meaningful connections with their consumers, wherever they watch. To do this, marketers need the right collaborators—partners who can tell new kinds of stories, identify key insights, drive attention to their brands, and fuel their larger marketing strategies.
It ultimately comes down to experience. Brands want to be programmers and publishers and deliver the type of content that people want to watch. They need content that entertains and also delivers the brand narrative they need to get across to their audiences.
Plus, they need to understand the intricacies of what works and what doesn’t on different digital and linear platforms—they can’t simply be everywhere with the same thing.
A YouTube video has to be different from a podcast, which has to be different from a linear spot. It can be a real challenge to achieve this new kind of storytelling on their own, relying on existing resources and teams to make this happen.
That’s why NBCUniversal created The Content Studio, an elite team that can empower marketers to create premium original content and distribute it at scale.
With access to NBCUniversal’s expansive community of storytellers in front of and behind the camera—from producers, writers and directors, to showrunners and on-screen talent—The Content Studio brings together a range of unique personalities and capabilities from across the entire NBCUniversal portfolio.
Marketers can use this talent not only to develop their brand’s story in exciting, engaging ways, but also to own it across all audiences and on all platforms.
Of course, in our fragmented media landscape, it’s not just about content. Data, as well as cross-platform fluency, have become increasingly valuable.
That’s why, at The Content Studio, we sit at the intersection of inspiration and insight. By combining NBCUniversal’s storytelling and production capabilities with the data capabilities of the company’s Audience Studio, The Content Studio ensures that our content hits the mark every time and on every metric.
And by leveraging the full depth and breadth of the NBCUniversal portfolio—across digital, social, TV, VOD—and through strategic partnerships with Buzzfeed, Vox Media, Snapchat and Apple News, to name a few, The Content Studio delivers the best narrative, the best audience and the best results for brands.
Regardless of the genre, target, platform or format, brands now have the power to redefine how they connect with their consumers, and tell their stories.
AT A GLANCE
The NBCU Content Studio capitalizes on the company’s best-in-class creative resources, proprietary data and insights, as well as the massive reach and scale of the portfolio to develop new ways to tell powerful brand stories across all platforms.
Multi-platform content creation
Data-fueled content distribution
SVP, The NBCU Content Studio
NBCU CONTENT STUDIO KEY PRODUCTS
Pay Attention to Attention
By David Levy, EVP, Nonlinear Advertising Revenues, Fox Networks Group; Co-founder, true[X]
We have to get more efficient with consumers’ time by serving them the proper targeted message at the right moment, and require better attention for much less time
There’s incredible diversity and power in today’s brand storytelling.
But there’s a problem: Great storytelling requires attention.
And with the proliferation of media across digital platforms and a huge increase in dollars being spent on content, the commodity of attention is becoming scarce.
At Fox Networks Group and true[X], we’ve got front-row seats to what’s changing. We see that we live in a world where consumers are empowered to choose when, where and how they consume content.
We have media overload… ad-free subscriptions like Netflix and HBO…and ad-blocking browser extensions. New technologies have changed the rules of engagement and pushed media to be both interactive and on-demand.
The big questions going forward: What type of storytelling will persist? And what are advertisers’ roles and responsibilities in continuing to fund important stories?
In trying to understand storytelling in our changing world, we’ve become fixated on data, tech stacks, programmatic, targeting and all the other buzzwords du jour. But at the end of the day, if the story and message don’t resonate and connect with your audience, they’re not going to work. At the core, it’s still about creating great stories.
Advertising continues to play catch-up. Instead of adjusting to this changing landscape by properly valuing the cost of attention and getting more efficient about how to reach people, the ad industry has tried to cram more ads into an ever-more-limited window. And as time and attention get crunched, we’re turning to bad metrics to try to make everything look better.
This has meant that low-quality, sensationalized content (and even fake news)—cheaply created and designed to quickly grab a bit-size amount of attention from a big audience—wins over stories developed to engage and reach people on a much deeper level.
Remember: Quality always wins. Look at who’s pulling in Golden Globes and Emmys; with the exception of FX, they’re going to outlets with no advertising, like HBO, Netflix and Amazon. How can ad-supported outlets keep up? Here’s a game plan:
We have to get more efficient with consumers’ time by serving them the proper targeted message at the right moment, and require better attention for much less time.
We have to properly value the difference in the attention we receive to encourage the delivery of better attention.
We have to give consumers more options about how and when they want to engage with advertising. Make it on their terms.
This is on us. Solving the problems of respecting audiences’ attention will come at a cost, but it’s necessary. Advertising is at a point of enormous sea change, and the marketplace has to adjust if it is going to survive and thrive.
AT A GLANCE
true[X] is the standard for engagement advertising. It delivers the most effective format for advertisers to truly reach and engage consumers in digital media. It is part of Fox Networks Group.
Data & analytics
true[X] Engagement Advertising Platform:
The platform is fully integrated across premium digital publishers to deliver a seamless site-to-ad experience.
SVP, Marketing & Communications
It’s Time to Raise Our Content IQ
By Chip Russo, EVP, Strategic Partnerships, ZEFR
The battle for consumer attention is only getting more difficult
Back in the ‘90s, it was easy to maintain a high Content IQ—an understanding of what viewers watch, where they’re watching and where to advertise. There were a handful of big hits on four major networks.
If you wanted to reach a massive audience and be a part of the national water cooler conversation, you could simply buy ad time on NBC’s Thursday “Must See TV” lineup.
Today, millions of viewers have shifted their focus away from scheduled, programmed TV to on-demand online video. 400 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and its billion users watch hundreds of millions of hours of content on the platform every day. Snapchat gets 10 billion video views per day and Facebook gets over 8 billion.
Then there’s Instagram, Twitter, Twitch and numerous VOD platforms, from behemoths Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to niche players like Brit-centric Acorn and Korean TV specialist DramaFever.
No one wants to be left out of the content conversation, especially brand marketers. But how can anyone maintain a high Content IQ with so much quality content to navigate?
It can only be done with technology.
ZEFR analyzes an average of 7.9 million videos every day and organizes those videos into 13,000 topics, so our partners— including five of the six Hollywood studios and dozens of Fortune 100 brands—can understand the content their consumers are watching.
For instance, a category like sports has numerous sub-categories, such as comedy-related sports videos, which have driven over 5 billion views on YouTube since 2015. The broadcast-like videos on the NBA’s official YouTube channel are a far cry from the off-the-wall, trick-shot clips posted by DudePerfect. They also connect with their audiences in different ways. The DudePerfect team, for instance, responds to viewer comments by looking straight into the camera and talking directly to their fans.
For brands that are investing in content creation, having a high Content IQ is vital. The battle for consumer attention is only getting more difficult. The winners will use data and technology to understand what their audiences are watching, then use that intelligence as a guide for ideation, production and even casting.
The amount of great content will grow exponentially in 2017, and it will look nothing like the content that was popular in 2016. Platforms will grow, new superstar creators will emerge and trends will sweep the nation.
Brands can now harness this digital influence to reach their audience at scale in a more personal, engaging way.
But to do so effectively, they need to maintain a high Content IQ and tap into the tools to activate it.
AT A GLANCE
ZEFR is the leading video technology company that translates video-level insights into premium, contextually relevant targeting opportunities for brands.
Digital video technology
Data & analytics
Director of Marketing