Life can be a bit of a whirlwind. Our lifestyles seem to change rapidly with advancements in technology, and it’s effect on the social fabric of the planet as a whole. And those advancements bring fast-changing times for branding, marketing, and advertising as well. More and more of us are using recording devices to not only document our lives but also do things like skip TV commercials with the push of a button. Add in the growing usage of tools like ad-blocking software online, and the general saturation of competition, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach consumers in the digital age. So how does a brand get its message across?
Enter social media marketing, where brands are activating the increasingly popular strategy at an exponential rate. In fact, it’s predicted that the global market for influencer marketing will become a $5-10 billion industry in the coming years. But whether it’s a partnership with an influencer, or another form of partnership with an individual or organization, the social marketing trend centers around the use of branded content. From sponsored Instagram posts to online webisodes, from music videos to short films, this kind of content is so entertaining, informative and (most importantly) engaging that consumers are often ecstatic to view and share it to their networks. This is both the power and appeal of branded content.
So we decided to put together a list of the 10 best examples of branded content. Some past successes, and others of more recent fanfare. Keep in mind, this is not a list of the 10 most viral branded content campaigns necessarily. Each selection was picked for its unique perspective and approach to branded content, and the success achieved through those efforts. At the end of the day, whether your goal is sales based or constructed around brand building, creating content that engages the masses is a win for any brand. Here are 10 examples of some great branded content campaigns.
1. Honda partnering with alternative band OK Go on a creative music video
This one wins in the fun and creativity department. OK Go is an alternative rock band from Chicago known for their funny and immensely creative music videos. This is the band that did the infamous treadmill choreography music video for their 2009 hit “Here It Goes Again”.
It’s worth noting that this music video was ahead of its time, both in creativity and in it’s foreshadowing of viral video content. It could be argued that OK Go inspired some of the pioneering trends of virality on social media. But I digress…
Fast forward to 5 years, and OK Go’s video for 2014’s “I Won’t Let You Down”, which debuted on NBC’s Today Show, put a whole new spin on product placement. In the video, band members can be seen cavorting around on Honda’s UNI-CUB self-balancing unicycles, which represented a massive PR coup and cross-promotion vehicle for the automaking company…no pun intended.
While the video lacks any actual mention of Honda, the video on YouTube – which is on the verge of achieving 45 million views – linked to an interactive website (now offline), which allowed people to see behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and information about the Honda UNI-CUB itself. Whether or not the masses ran out their doors and scrambled to purchase a UNI-CUB or not, is mostly irrelevant. The sheer volume of brand awareness (and viewership) achieved from the video was a huge win for the already powerful company. And the tact with which it was deployed – with its casual lack of direct brand and product placement in the ad itself – displayed a level of creativity and design that other brands surely have blueprinted in their marketing content. Much like the band itself, Honda was a bit of a trendsetter with this campaign.
2. “David Harbour vs. God of War” – Gamespot + Sony
This piece of content marketing is a shining example of the power that celebrity influencers bring to branded content. David Harbour, the star of Netflix’s colossal hit Stranger Things series, brought his love for the God of War franchise to this video, in which he plays through the newest game alongside Gamespot’s Lucy James and Sony’s Cory Barlog. Harbour’s personality shines in this hilarious video, chock-full of God Of War commentary and tiny cups of coffee in obscure glassware.
The success of this piece isn’t hard to disseminate. Seeing as he stars in one of Netflix’s most binged series, Harbour was the perfect choice to both draw in viewers who may not have necessarily be fans of God of War, and also enhance the experience for those who were already fans.
Stranger Things + God Of War = big marketing win.
3. “IHOP” becomes “IHOB”
This one sent both social and traditional media ablaze when it dropped last year. But what began as a laughed off attempt at re-establishing market relevancy, has turned into one of the best content marketing wins in recent memory. In fact, IHOP’s name change should probably be recognized as one of the greatest brand awareness campaigns of all time. The concept, while inherently risky, was fairly simple in nature. The company was introducing something fairly ordinary in the restaurant industry (a range of burgers), yet the virality they generated was greater than anyone likely could have imagined.
This was more than a gimmick. The famously pancake-focused brand literally went as far as to actually change the signage on their restaurants that reflected their (temporary) name change. Talk about taking an idea and running with it! And while many people (and competitors) universally mocked the company for this campaign, the results likely silenced those critics. IHOP generated more conversation than McDonald’s, Burger King and the uber social media savvy Wendy’s, with a simple niche that captured the entire world’s attention. And oh yeah, the campaign quadrupled the company’s sales. So for all the laughs the name change rouse induced with viewers, it ended up producing a massive spike in business for the pancake house. So it’s fair to say that IHOP got the last laugh on this one.
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4. “Behind the Shot” – National Geographic + BMW
This campaign is a testament to the art of both visual content, and the promotion behind it. This partnership artfully blended awe-inspiring photos by National Geographic with the adventurous spirit of BMW to create a video that was both powerful and relatable in nature. National Geographic has a reputation for creating riveting photo and video content, and “Behind The Shot” didn’t fall short.
The defining feature of National Geographic is its breathtaking photography, so bringing the viewer behind the scenes of how those shoots take place was a perfect way to structure a sponsored content piece about a human-interest story. Much like they do with the family of ranchers portrayed in this powerful video. Furthermore, the wondrous narration only enhances its relatability, giving it an authentic human quality that’s particularly effective. When you touch the hearts and minds of your audience, you have a recipe for success.
5. “Good Looking Out” – Complex + SIMPLE Mobile
We all love inspirational stories. Good Looking Out is a branded web series created by Complex and SIMPLE Mobile that gives millennial entrepreneurs an opportunity to receive mentorship from heavy hitters who are successful in their field and relevant in their industry. It’s a well-produced series that showcases young talent in everything from fashion to the culinary arts. It’s sort of like a hip version of ‘Shark Tank’ in its own right.
With SIMPLE Mobile putting their name on the show, they effectively positioned themselves as a company invested in the ideas and talents of their customer base. Target marketing at it’s finest. Utilizing a content outlet of this nature empowers them to comment on issues that are close to their hearts and ideals.
6. “The Boy and the Piano” – John Lewis + Elton John #EltonJohnLewis
Social media has an abundance of ‘before and after’ themed content. But this depiction of that concept is content gold. John Lewis, the U.K. department store chain, capitalized on the holiday market and created an extremely well-produced commercial. “The Boy and the Piano” spot starred Elton John and took us back through the many stages of his career, and his childhood.
The video delivered more than just bringing us back to his (reenacted) childhood and the day he receives his first piano. The ad symbolized how the right gift can inspire and help chart the course of someone’s entire life. Plucking at the heartstrings of consumers, coupled with the high production value of the content itself, proved to be pleasing cuveé of promotion and nostalgia.
7. “Oddly IKEA” – IKEA + ASMR
ASMR swept across the feeds of social media users like a swift wind. But the kind of breeze that soothes your stress-filled mind. Brands like W Magazine and Applebee’s were some of the first companies to begin cashing in on the ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) craze by incorporating it into their ad campaigns. ASMR is often described as the oddly tingly, relaxing sensation that sounds the likes of whispers and ambient noise can cause. Following in the footsteps of these brands, furniture conglomerate IKEA released a series of 25 minute ASMR videos for their “Oddly IKEA” campaign. The campaign was created to highlight their back-to-school college dorm items and was centered around the dorms themselves.
8. “WW Freestyle” – Weight Watchers + DJ Khaled
At the beginning of 2018, global social media star and music producer DJ Khaled became Weight Watchers’ official social media ambassador. This was a bold move for both Weight Watchers and for everyone’s favorite yelling DJ. With the campaign, fans could follow along on social (Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) as DJ Khaled participated in the WW Freestyle program. And being that DJ Khaled is about as avid a Snapchat and Instagram user there is, the selection was a great choice for brand building on social, and perhaps appealing to a new generation of potential customers.
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Im all in !!!!!! @weightwatchers @wethebestmusic @rocnation !!!!!! I CAN SHOW YOU BETTER THAN I CAN TELL YOU!!!!!!! @asahdkhaled I GOT US !! FAN LUV I GOT US !!!! 🙏🏽🔑🙏🏽🦁 Oh yeah DID I TELL YOU I BEEN IN THE STUDIO !!!!
Weight Watchers’ campaign demonstrated the brilliance that can be found when brands are strategic about the personalities they partner with. DJ Khaled boasts a massive audience that is both young and social media savvy and is substantially more irreverent than Weight Watchers’ previous ambassadors. DJ Khaled had the potential to bring new (younger, male) audiences to the diet and weight loss brand, and lo and behold, it worked: CNN reported that the company’s shares immediately rose by more than 6%.
9. “My Area” – Revolt + Under Armour
Aligning your brand with partners who speak to your audience and reflect your brand voice are crucial to maximizing your marketing efforts. Hip-hop artist and sports super fan, Wale, gave back to his hometown in this collaboration between Revolt and Under Armour. This was a partnership that emphasized the power of celebrity influencers, especially those supporting a cause.
Combining Revolt’s expertise in Hip-Hop culture with Under Armour’s HOVR running shoe, this program was a great way to promote a healthy, active lifestyle through community engagement. Fun, heartwarming, and motivational material is always a formula for success when executed properly.
10. Free WhoppHER — Burger King
We end our list with a mildly controversial campaign. But while the video did receive some backlash and perhaps miss the mark in some areas, the intended sentiment of the content was a noble undertaking. Burger King offered a free Whopper sandwich to celebrate women who had just been bestowed the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. Every woman behind the wheel who went through its drive-thrus in the kingdom was able to redeem this offer. The fast-food giant didn’t change the burger itself, controversially named the WhoppHER, itself—just the wrapper. The burger chain put a strong emphasis on the program’s logo and “Celebrating Our Driving Women” copy in both English and Arabic.
Burger King did receive some backlash for the WhoppHER campaign. But in our (and many other’s) eyes, celebrating a victory in equal rights and humanitarianism on a global scale while rewarding those who had previously oppressed is a win-win across the board, regardless of critics. As the old saying goes, fortune favors the bold
AFs a reminder, Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be fluff but can be a sales channel and an imperative part of every marketing strategy. Our influencer marketing agency caters to all of our clients’ needs, we aren’t simply an influencer marketing company.
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