While many were wringing their hands last year over whether native advertising on social networks would go boom or bust, others were miles ahead with a much bolder strategy to get branded content to viewers - by publishing it themselves. Whether the audience is filled with users, consumers or stock holders, content published directly by brands took on a new life in the last 12 months. That's right, 100 percent sponsored content that audiences were still interested in consuming.
Of course, it’s a fine line. Readers won’t just share content that tells them to, "Buy product X!" But people will share great content if it feels right to them, if the sponsorship is secondary to the content, and if the content connects with the audience.
Here's a quick run-down of some interesting brand-published content that we've seen in the last few months - and that promises to up the ante for 2013.
Only on a site dedicated to a brand like Coca-Cola and designed to engage its shareholders would a person come across a factoid like how many tweets per quarter the company generated (more than 1.3 million of them).
Jay Z’s branding strategy is not the same as a typical blue-chip corporation. He’s interested in creating lifestyle content that keeps his name at the top of his audience’s mind, and less about exclusively promoting products and services that benefit him directly.
For instance, Jay Z is a part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets; so why is his Life+Times profiling James Harden, who was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets? Because James Harden is awesome, and for no other reason.
This is a great example of the soft sell with a viral intent. That is, in its “Find Your Strength” video series, Expedia doesn’t have its subjects turn to the camera and say things like, “I beat cancer because I got a great deal on plane tickets.” That would ruin the whole thing.
With these professional quality videos, Expedia is trying to get under its audience’s critical radar and promote content sharing of a heart-warming variety with its brand name along for the ride. Has the Travelocity gnome made you feel good lately about donating to cancer treatment? No? Then book that next flight on Expedia, I guess.
When a tiny backwater of a town, Takeo, Japan, rebranded itself as "Facebook City" in order to increase its visibility on Japanese-language corner of the Internet, Facebook Stories was there to capture the story, which only further increased Takeo’s global profile while putting a feather in Facebook’s cap at the same time.
If the news media is only going to report on your company if the stock price falls or if you get sued for something silly, then it’s up to the company to push its own content into the audience-space. To that end, Facebook hired journalists and writers in 2012 to highlight stories of Facebook being used the right way to make the world, and its brand, a better place.
Red Bull put a man in a balloon that went to outer space so he could jump out and survive and built a site to chronicle. Every TV and print outlet in the world soaked this branded marketing stunt up. If Felix Baumgartner had gone splat on live TV, that would have been bad for the Red Bull brand. Since he didn't, it may have been the greatest brand stunt of all time.
Have you seen some brand content that we should know about? Let us know in the comments.