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Content Marketing Digital Entertainment World conference DEW

How Micro Influencers, In-Person Events And Ephemeral Video Are Transforming Content Marketing

At this year’s Digital Entertainment World conference, I moderated a panel of top entertainment and e-commerce executives talking about the trends and technologies reshaping content marketing.

It’s a fast-evolving field, encompassing a wide array of marketing approaches and technologies. Panelists included Tim Sovay, the COO of CreatorIQ, “a software platform hat helps brands measure and scaled influencer marketing and branding content;” Sandro Corsaro, head of creative and content for Fandango, including Rotten Tomatoes, Movie Clips and MovieTickets.com; Kym Nelson, head of sales for Twitch; and Russell Arons, a Warner Bros. executive and former co-head of the just-dissolved Machinima.

Here’s a transcript of their very smart conversation. It’s been substantially edited for length and clarity.

David Bloom
So, a temperature check to start: how are Fortune 500 brands taking to content marketing?

Russell Arons
If you don’t have something entirely relevant and pinpointed to an audience, they’re not interested. You can use every algorithm in the world to try to find them, but then you have to engage them. I saw a great example of something Procter & Gamble did. They know something about marketing, but you might put them in the traditional bucket. They have embraced content marketing in all its forms. So it’s almost a little passé to say (content marketing) hasn’t been embraced.

Bloom
That seems to me to be the most important embrace, one with money in it. So as we look at the spending mix, is this going to be a quarter of the budget? Is this a major investment?

Kym Nelson
I agree with Russell, but I also think that when we look across our stable of 1,000 different advertisers, there are spectrums of people willing to take chances with branded content and user-generated content and influencer marketing. And there’s those who will take big risks, and give us lots of leeway to do creative things. And then there’s some who are very, very careful. They’re like, ‘Let’s wait and see how so-and-so does and then we’ll try it.’ So I think the budgets will continue to swing in that direction, (in) just kind of a wave and not drastically everybody all at once.

Bloom
So who’s taking a big swing among your 1,000 advertisers and doing really cool stuff?

Nelson
We’re seeing a lot of the entertainment studios doing really fun things. Obviously, the video game companies are doing some fun things. Brands that really identify with Gen Z and Millennials like Doritos are doing really fun things, Budweiser. Dollar Shave Club just did something really interesting with us. They haven’t done a ton of marketing, but they did something really creative and went far out ahead of what a lot of other people did. And the results were unexpected. There’s a trend of those brands that do generate or resonate with the Gen Z and Millennial audience. They recognize that is their current and future consumer. And they are the ones really embracing the trends happening in the marketplace.

Bloom
What was it that Dollar Shave Club did?

Nelson
We just launched the bounty board, which democratizes the ability for streamers to earn money doing brand content. We have about 3 million people streaming at any given time on our platform. And most of the big advertisers want to work with the Ninjas of the world, and the Summits and the Doctor Disrespects, and their prices are getting higher and higher. It’s really difficult to satisfy a high demand of content-marketing plans when you have a limited stable of high-level ambassadors. What we’ve created is a tool that automates the ability for all of our streamers to participate. We collect data on the back end and for any given brand, we can match the information from the brand with the information from the streamers and collect a group of streamers who identify with that brand. Then they can opt in to do the influencer campaign. Instead of having a Ninja and a Summit, for example, you might have 300 or 400 micro streamers, so the scale can be the same as the large streamers but you’re talking to a bunch of smaller communities instead of one or two really large ones.

Bloom
Sandro, what are you seeing with the studios and the networks and what you’re creating with them?

Sandro Corsaro
We’re in an admirable position with our content (which is) movie trailers. People view them as a form of entertainment. I don’t know how many people here would watch three or four car commercials for entertainment but people love trailers. If you look at Chris Pratt, on Instagram, he posted (about) Lego (Movie) 2. It’s a hilarious movie and that speaks to the authenticity and the accessibility of this kind of content. (Pratt) posted about the Rotten Tomatoes score, and then pushed (people) to Fandango. We don’t pay him to do that. So we’re fortunate. We also have non-endemic (advertisers) coming into the space. Over the summer, we had a program called Fanticipation with the Microsoft Surface where we had a bunch of influencers get together and talk about movies, using the Surface Pro to diagram and design and talk about superhero movies.It’s the expression of authenticity and the expression of accessibility through content marketing. Those are core tenets that we think of all the time.

Bloom
Accessibility and authenticity have probably always been the two watch words in this business. But it seems the notion of what authenticity is, has evolved. It used to be it had to be rough-hewn content to fit in but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case anymore.

Tim Sovay
The notion of low-fi content as the way it needed to be for authenticity is because the creator ecosystem was in its early days. You literally had amateur filmmakers just getting started. The creator system has now been around for more than a decade. You have what amounts to professional filmmakers creating content on a daily basis. They’ve gone on to make content for the streaming platforms or for the networks. The idea around authenticity means something a little different to probably everyone in this room. But from CreatorIQ’s perspective, you talked about the maturity of the space, we count Fortune 500 companies such as Unilever and CVS Health as clients. They’ve pushed all in on the direct-to-consumer space, just like Airbnb or legal cannabis companies. The common through line is they’re all creating branded content. They’re all in the content-marketing game and they’re really all speaking the same language, even though they look vastly different as companies.

Bloom
Recently, we’ve seen several big news organizations getting pounded. Vice laid off 10 percent of its workforce, and said it’s going to do more branded content. Is that something that can save journalism?

Corsaro
I think it’s going to be a mixture of (approaches). I don’t think it’s a one trick pony. I don’t think it’s a magic bullet. I think it’ll be a mixture. Google, if you look at their Super Bowl ad, of course, it’s a commercial and it’s (well) shot, but it was of the people. There was a connection. Whether you were a little girl, whether you’re a guy in India, whether you were in Taipei, there was all these things that kind of made you feel like, ‘Oh, I could use that product.’

Bloom
What kinds of partnerships are we seeing out there?

Arons
Speaking broadly, one of the most exciting examples is what Turner is doing with Turner Ignite and their branded-content studio Courageous. They took journalists and put them against the task of branded content. And they did huge pieces with MassMutual Insurance, with Procter & Gamble. Imagine an insurance company, trying to explain to them, ‘Okay, this isn’t going to be all about the benefits of insurance. It’s going to be about talking about how people can be kind to each other. But there’s a halo effect to you.’ That could be could have a new home by taking those (journalism) skill sets and applying it to branded content in an authentic voice.

Nelson
We’re seeing a lot of collaboration. Clients are taking a lot more time to understand who our viewers are and how they relate to their consumer base. And they’re investing more time into understanding the right way to speak to this audience. As a result of the collaboration, and aligning on what they want to get across, and what our capabilities are, they land something in the middle that makes a lot of sense and resonates with the audience and that our streamers have a lot of fun with. It just naturally comes across as really authentic.

Bloom
It must be a much more complicated process to do this with a live stream, particularly in a partnership where you have more moving parts. How do you make it come together?

Nelson
Dollar Shave Club educated us on their whole product base, and what the benefits of it were. Then we were communicated that to hundreds, if not thousands, of different streamers who were vetted to participate in the Bounty Board. Not just any streamer can participate. They have to be vetted and pass certain criteria to make sure they’re professional and can follow brand-safety regulations. We conveyed what the important factors were that Dollar Shave Club wanted to get across, sent them the actual product and had them play with it. And that was like rolling the dice. It was really like, ‘Okay, here you go. Here’s some instructions. Here’s the product, have fun with it,’ and cross our fingers. Go on Twitch and watch some of these. They are laugh-out-loud funny. For a typical client, it would have been cringeworthy because of the some of the ways they’re describing how they use the product. But that’s what made it so immediately (engaging).
But that being said, that turned into a viral video, too. People actually took clips because it was so funny. And these broadcasters had so much fun talking about it that people actually clipped the live stream and sent it around virally.

Bloom
Sandro, what are some of the best projects you’ve seen in recent months?

Corsaro
I think despite the recent news with BuzzFeed, I think if you look at something like Tasty, they’ve been able to integrate partnerships in the Today show and get into consumer products. Kevin Hart has been on this meteoric rise I think he’s weighs 135 lbs., so we made him a belt that said ‘Pound for pound, the biggest movie star in the world.’ We gave him that belt in front of The Rock, and we watched it matriculate on the Internet, so to speak

Bloom
So The Rock obviously a good one to play with, because he’s got 600 gazillion followers. And you had a couple of guys who are viral already with a fun idea, and you went from there.

Corsaro
ESPN plus is doing something interesting. If you look at their marketing campaign, they’re definitely going back to the core of what ESPN is about, which is highlights in sports. It’s very different than where they were a few years ago. And then a company that’s been doing it for very long time is Red Bull. They’ve pushed themselves into a lifestyle brand because people forget they’re an energy drink.

Content marketing games music Sovay
Take a look at what Nike and National Geographic did, rolling out a real-time documentary. Nike’s athletes tried to break the two-hour marathon barrier, which has never been done. And spoiler alert, I think they got to two hours, one minute. They used the largest media company in the world on social, the largest brand on social, Nat Geo photographers, Nike athletes, other ancillary characters. They really built an entire ecosystem to push out it ended in a documentary but it was really about how it unfolded in real time on social. And then, a much more current example, I’d be paying attention to what Marshmello and Fornite just did. This was really big. We understand what Fortnite is, but it’s becoming something more than just a game. And there was no brand involved but it just shows the power of the platform with the right artists and the right audience. You can obviously see the next step being potentially a brand involved, maybe unfortunately, but they had 10 million viewers on a 10-minute concert. This was Marshmello, the DJ, plays EDM, wears a giant marshmallow on his head, looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  Sponsored by Stay Puft is the next iteration of this.

Bloom
That’s really powerful, 10 million people showing up to watch them even for only 10 minutes is a remarkable thing. So moving forward,  give me a couple of things that you guys see on the horizon, technologies that are transformative, opportunities f, cool things that are coming down the pike.

Arons
I’m going to go the opposite of technology. I’m going to talk about the in-person and how experiential is the thing right now. Whether you’ve been to a Comic-con, I’m sure you all have either seen it or its brethren, the less corporate but highly engaged Dragon Con. This   desire for people to find their communities and the people they’ve been interacting with online is incredibly powerful. We can’t let loose the idea that there’s still something magical and even more engaging about these live experiential events. And you see how much brands are investing in them more and more. I think every major Warner Brothers family film has an experiential marketing component to it.

Nelson
Experiential is very important. But (so is) integrating that with a live-stream platform so that that (in-person) experience can be broadcast to a wider audience, so people in Mississippi that may not be at Comic-Con, or SXSW, can also have that live experience within the four walls.

Corsaro
The productization of that (in-person) experience to everyone, not just the people that are in the room, (is very important). With technology, there’s definitely a way to get there. I also see voice becoming a huge frontier the next five years, not only for commerce brands, but for discovery brands. The ability to personalize that experience. I think it’s going to be really interesting. You know, I have a six-month old daughter, and we’re terrified that her first words are going to be ‘OK, Google.’

Bloom
I don’t see people asking Siri to show me the cool video from Unilever. I don’t see that coming out of a lot of people’s mouths. So maybe, ‘It’s show me that cool thing from Marshmello?’

Sovay
That’s fair. So I would add ephemeral video, such as Instagram Stories. We’ve seen massive growth there, over 500 million daily users. The emphasis of the social platforms is to build e-commerce hooks into things like Stories and Snap. Other platforms look to be releasing Stories-type content in coming months. You’ll see a continued push into ephemeral video.