How branded content counters consumer skepticism

In a marketplace where measures of trust are plummeting, communicators are desperate to regain their audience. Here’s one tool you shouldn’t overlook.

Advertising isn’t dead yet, but it’s largely underwhelming, underserving and interrupting the audiences organizations care about most.

Nine out of 10 people skip preroll ads, 23 percent of radio listeners immediately change the station when a commercial plays and 26 percent of U.S. desktop users block ads.

For better or worse, consumers are in charge of their media choices. If your company can’t reach them in a trustworthy, engaging way, then you can bet your brand will take a hit. According to findings from a CMO Council study, 99 percent of consumers would curtail or terminate relationships with companies that failed to earn their trust.

The news isn’t all bad, though.

Consumers might not put much stock in traditional ads, but they’re open to new kinds of branded media. Time Inc. recently analyzed how consumers interact with “custom content,” including branded and native content, and found that two-thirds of those surveyed trust branded content more than they do traditional ads.

The takeaway for marketers? Stop thinking like an advertiser and start thinking like a media company. Instead of trying to creatively interrupt content that consumers watch, listen to, and read, be the content that consumers want. Doing so will save money, engender trust and ultimately pay off in new customers.

Get started with one or more of these:

1. Short films

By definition, a short film is no longer than 40 minutes, credits included. It’s not a commercial, and it’s not a feature film — it’s somewhere in between. While your brand or product might play a supporting role, the focus should be on the story. As an added bonus, you can recoup production costs by licensing the videos to Netflix or Hulu, but in order to do so, your content has to tell a great story.

For example, in 2015, JW Marriott released its short film “Two Bellmen,” featuring William Spencer and Caine Sinclair. The film follows two bellmen working at a Marriott hotel as they attempt to stop a group of thieves from carrying out an art heist on the property. The two bellmen return in “Two Bellmen 2,” in which they adventure through Dubai, and again in “Two Bellmen 3,” where they save a wedding in South Korea. All three films are witty and lighthearted, tell a story and showcase Marriott properties.

2. Magazines

In 2011, energy drink company Red Bull announced the U.S. launch of The Red Bulletin, a caffeine-charged lifestyle magazine that now tells its “stories of inspirational people and their achievements from around the world of Red Bull and its playgrounds” to an audience of nearly 2 million readers. Not to be outdone, Uber launched Momentum, a magazine for its drivers that publishes driver features and tips for those who make it a profession. Even Airbnb started its own magazine dedicated to travel and adventure.

New publications are notoriously hard to get off the ground, so why did each company’s venture succeed? All three won readers over with informative, interesting and visually rich content. The platforms aren’t just about the brands; they’re about what the brands stand for.

To go this route, don’t be afraid to seek a publishing partner. For example, Airbnbmag is a Hearst publication. Dollar Shave Club launched a men’s lifestyle destination called MEL Magazine with the help of Medium, and Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz turned to Raymond Roker, founder of URB magazine, to get The Red Bulletin off the ground.

You know that cool Away suitcase you’ve seen celebrities endorse? In addition to its quarterly magazine for all things travel, it hosts a travel podcast called Airplane Mode. Each of these companies knows that authentic, interesting and branded content is what consumers crave.

3. Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual and augmented reality may still be new to the tech scene, but cutting-edge brands are already using them to reach consumers. For example, GE launched a VR series called “The Possible” that allows users to experience hoverboards, robots and land speeders in virtual reality to showcase the real-life results of science and technology.

IN another recent collaboration, IBM and The New York Times built a VR app around the premiere of “Hidden Figures.” They created the Outthink Hidden app, which transports users to more than 150 cities to discover stories of marginalized hidden figures throughout history. The duo dug into what consumers found intriguing about the movie and used it to power another real-life learning experience.

Branded content is smart business. Do you want to create ads that people skip, or do you want to spend less money on branded content your audience actually cares about?

Which kinds of content are you investing in, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

Adam Root is the senior vice president of strategy at Ackerman McQueen and interim chief operations officer at Marketing Zen. A version of this article originally appeared on the Cision blog.

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