SXSW: Big Campaigns on Digital Dollars


My notes from the “Big Campaigns on Digital Dollars" panel, with Melissa Fallon, Chris Hanada, Milo Ventimiglia, Wilson Cleveland and Andrew Hampp. (Their bios are posted on the event page.)

The panel focused on working with brands to create online content and web TV series that are fun, intersting and creative while still carrying the brand's message.

Andrew: How are you working with brands?

Milo: We try to factor in what the company is, who they represent and what they're trying to get across. Ultimately it's about finding good content that does what the client wants.

Melissa: Do it in an authentic way and get their message out in a more entertaining way. Distribution is the big challenge. Who's going to find it? Will it be “water cooler”? Find the fine line between making it entertaining and ensuring that the brand's message is communicated authentically.

Wilson: I come from a marketing and PR background so a lot of the branded entertainment we do is created as a PR vehicle. We started creating shows as a way to allow the brands to tell their stories but not be dependent on traditional media coverage.

IKEA's goal is to have people “watch it and remember it.” Measurement can be difficult but IKEA is a fan itself and they're just enjoying the success of the show.

Chris: We're dealing with two brands: the show's brand and the client's brand. “It's all about the content, making sure it's something you can be excited about and making sure you can get the brand's message in there.”

Andrew: What are the brands' priorities?

Wilson: It depends on what the brands want. If a brand is creating a media property or franchise they want to live on beyond just a campaign, that's preferable. In terms of marketing these shows, the idea is to get to the brands' enthusiasts. In terms of IKEA, we approached the fan blogs to be part of the distribution strategy. We went to them and asked them to put the show on their blog. They promised to write the blogger with the most hits into the season finale. Three million of the nine million views came from the fan blogs.

Melissa: Social media is moving webseries from paid placement to a YouTube approach, which can make brands uncomfortable since it's not guaranteed, but it has more potential and brands are starting to get comfortable with it.

Wilson: It's harder to measure a social media approach using a traditional measurement approach, which contributes to the discomfort.

Milo: Network execs tell them their kids aren't even watching the network shows they produce, they're watching shows online. The medium doesn't matter, content is king.

Melissa: It's less about trying to get a less expensive show online. Brands don't budget for four bombs and one success. They're somewhat risk averse and have to make sure they get their marketing message out there. Brands don't want to push their message at you, they want to have a conversation. They just don't know how yet.

Wilson: As more brands become media companies, the CMO is going to have to become the producer. You don't have a studio to greenlight a production. The brands don't know what it costs and try to cut out a segment of the budget without knowing what it will cost. The CMO has to become the producer and learn how this stuff works.

Melissa: It's about the honest dialog with the producer and the creative team. You need to be candid and make sure you have a healthy understanding of what the brand needs. One creative team pitched Melissa the idea of a video with people throwing eggs at the company's truck as it drove by. If the relationship isn't going to work, find someone else.

Wilson: We created a show in 2006 called The Temp Life for a staffing firm, Spherion. We're basically making fun of their industry, which works for them. Their issue was building loyalty with temps. We told them no one would watch a show about how awesome it is to be a temp, so we put out a show making fun of that. The message from the brand is, “It's not always fun being a temp,” and because they acknowledge that, it builds trust with their intended audience. That show is now the longest-running show online.

Chris: We're usually given pretty strict guidelines. With Nissan, we were told no villains could drive a Nissan and there couldn't be any car crashes.

Wilson: The IKEA show is shot in IKEA stores and there's some gentle ribbing of the “IKEAverse,” but it works and they're comfortable with that.

Melissa: There's a fine line in the medium and every brand has different objectives. One of the biggest challenges is the inability to measure the engagement level and impact on a universally standard scale. Half of that is that every brand has different objectives.

Andrew: Do brands want microsites or are they comfortable driving traffic to the web content directly?

Wilson: You have to syndicate. Nine times out of ten people won't seek out the content. You have to go to where the audience is. Otherwise you'll lose a lot of potential eyeballs.

Chris: The syndication sites usually drive traffic to a brand's microsite. You have to get your message across in other ways.

Melissa: Ask yourself why you're asking people to come back to your site? For e-commerce or lead capture it makes sense, but if you're a large brand like Pepsi it might be okay to have the message out there and not drive them back to a brand page.

Wilson: The key to building a brand through online content is to find where you audience is and provide utility. Figure out what makes you valuable.

Melissa responded to a question about measurement.

"Brands will come to us and say, 'Give us something that's never been done before, and show us how it's been successful in the past.'"

There was an amusing exchange during the Q&A:

Milo: "There's no Nielsen ratings for the Interet."
Voice in the audience: "Yes there is. It's called ComScore."
Milo: "Is that you guys?"
Voice: "Yes."
Milo: "Cool."


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