Hating on branded content? Why Influencer Marketing is no new thing.

Influencers getting bashed for branded content is a story we’re all too familiar with: loyal followers feeling betrayed by the #ad that’s crept in on Influencers’ feeds; Influencer campaigns that seem to emphasise product placement over the usual honest and credible reviews. We hate to break it to you (actually we kind of like it) but this type of content, that is advertising with a story to tell, isn’t as new a phenomenon as we claim to believe. Brands using word-of-mouth for exposure goes centuries back and social media follows the same principle…on a very healthy dose of adrenaline. In collaboration with Anna Sudbury, Senior Associate at Conde Nast and blogger @bell_from_bow, here’s our two piece on a few examples that show creative brand association across the century and most importantly, why they’ve worked.

As the content put out by brands becomes ever more sophisticated, branded content is taking first place, even if you may not think it is. Why? Because imaginative storytelling is directing consumers to actively view branded content, rather than consciously avoiding it. And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it.

Case study 1 : Michelin Tyres

In 1900, the Michelin Guide was published by car manufacturing brothers Edouard and André Michelin as an attempt to boost car sales, and consequently tyres, in France. There were as few as 395 automobiles on the road in 1895 so the brothers thought they had to do something to convince people that a car was a useful asset and get their new product out to market. The guide didn’t scream about buying tyres, but actually offered informative, relevant information to French motorists, giving the brand industry authority and building immediate awareness. To direct purchase, it painted a much bigger picture of the brand, inspiring travel and exploration around France, for which by default you’d need a car and tyres. By offering so much more than just the automobile equipment, it simultaneously associated all regional travel information with the brand itself, establishing it as a well-respected and trusted source of information. So who would you go to for a car and tyres in France at the turn of the century? Michelin, of course.


Case study 2 : P&G

Ever wondered why soap operas are well, called soaps? Again, it’s an early example of content marketing and intelligent brand association, its name coined by the media due to the soap manufacturers who were the original major sponsors of these serials, Proctor & Gamble being one of the very first. Content marketing, that is content created by a brand to build a relationship with its audience, isn’t a modern day strategy. Look back to the 30s and it was radio that created content specifically about the assumed interests of its target demographic. Similarly, modern day marketers seek to create the same across their channels to grow and maintain engagement; and, just as listeners knew exactly who was bringing the content through sponsorship, followers today know an ad when they see one. Whether they care or not that they’re viewing sponsored material is entirely dependent on the quality of the content.


Into the modern day

So influencer marketing and branded content is nothing new. By the time Malcolm Gladwell wrote his 2000 bestseller, The Tipping Point, the Internet was changing the face of marketing. It gave connectors a new venue for introducing the members of their networks, provided a forum where experts could share their information, and created avenues for brands to persuade the public.  And it can very obvious or incredibly subtle.


Case study 3 : #goodluckVP

 In March 2015, Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton announced that she wanted to ride a horse at Cheltenham, just days before that year’s festival. Betfair seized the opportunity to champion a female in a male-dominated sport and increase appeal beyond the core betting audience.

Seeded out on social media, Betfair told consumers a story that detailed what it takes to become a jockey, amplifying the content via social activity using the hashtag #goodluckVP. Only a year after first sitting on the horse, Pendleton came fifth in her race at Cheltenham in 2016, finishing unscathed and attracting praise from horse racing traditionalists who had expressed doubts about the scale of her challenge.

Betfair certainly came out on top with the volume of bets through the company on Pendleton’s race – the Foxhunter Chase – increasing by 49 per cent over the previous year. It made it one of the top ten races of the year with bets via Betfair up 12.4 per cent on 2015.

Awareness among non-customers rose from 14 per cent to 26 per cent and the campaign was nominated for a Cannes Lion. These are amazing results for this story, which had such traditional storytelling elements: a nation’s sweetheart, taking on an incredible challenge, risking bodily harm and humiliation. The story itself doesn’t have to be wildly original, but focus on how its narrative is constructed to set apart the impressive from the mediocre.


Case study 4 : Felix Baumgartner X Red Bull

Red Bull Stratos pilot Felix Baumgartner is an expert parachutist best known for completing an unprecedented freefall flight across the English Channel using a carbon wing. He’s also kind of a big deal on social media if you are into that sort of thing…jumping out of planes and all. Here at One Roof, we’re probably not that daring in life, but definitely in content and this epic example of subtle content marketing is one we can all learn from, particularly because it didn’t even feature any product.

Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound reaching an estimated speed of *833.9 mph (1,342.8 km/h) jumping from the stratosphere for Red Bull, which when certified will make him the first man to break the speed of sound in freefall while delivering valuable data for future space exploration. On Sunday morning Oct. 14, 2012, he climbed to 128,100 feet (39,045 meters) in a helium-filled balloon. His entire trip back to earth was documented on Youtube and countless millions of people around the world watched his ascent and jump live on television broadcasts and internet streams; that’s 9:09 minutes, 4:22 of those in freefall.

As we mentioned above, there was no product featured in this shot, or even in the entire campaign itself, save a few branded stickers on the helmet and suit. Felix needs to be an athlete to do what he does, which basically means he doesn’t drink Red Bull! So why was he the perfect fit? His influence, talent and bravery bring credibility to the brand, which means that you and I are more likely to drink Red Bull. Need proof? The brand’s sales rose 7% in the year that Felix jumped.


Let’s see who you really are

What social campaigns allow a brand to do is show off a personality - it can be tailored to a particular audience via its platform consumption (ie. snapchat for 14-22 year olds) and it evokes a brand personality, which gives consumers greater access to what they’re buying into.  It’s a competitive space, so brands need to be acting in a way that makes them stand out, gains them shares and spreads positive chatter.


Case study 5 : @loki_the_wolfdog X Mercedes-Benz

Take Loki the wolfdog and his owner Kelly Lund who teamed up with Mercedes-Benz in March 2016. The car company honed in on relevant content for its consumers and the times - personalities, adventure, and storytelling - and created an awesome content series with an incredibly cute dog, some innovative tech via the 360 degree video, and simple storytelling of how Kelly Lund and his dog spend their time out in the snow. It ticked the millennial trends’ focus and captured the personality of the brand itself.


Case study 6 : ASOS Insiders

As a much more obvious example, look at ASOS and their series of sponsored Instagram accounts for a diverse range of individual influencers. Known as ‘ASOS insiders’ - they primarily post images of themselves on Instagram wearing ASOS clothing – using links to prompt followers to ‘buy the look’. But using the text with the Instagram image, ASOS Ashley can still tell a story.  Because Ashley and the other ‘Insiders’ are usually fashion, beauty, or lifestyle bloggers, they already have a large and existing audience on their main accounts. This means that the people involved are able to capture more than just the product, offering style tips, behind-the-scenes insight into the brand, and general lifestyle-related content. In short, they tell stories, told via incredibly diverse talent, which means that it’s relevant for everyone.

“Consumers are perfectly prepared to engage with advertising and content, as long as you make it interesting, relevant or entertaining.”


Dylan Jones, Editor-in-chief, Gq

In fact you don’t need to be subtle at all.  But you DO need to be interesting, relevant or entertaining. Ad breaks: we say we hate them. But then how many of you tweet, talk and cry over the eagerly anticipated John Lewis Christmas ad each wintery season? It’s a lot of you, us included. In 2016, the anticipated annual commercial won the title of the most-shared ad across social media that year and ranks as the fifth-most shared Christmas ad of all time.


It’s important to remember that content marketing isn’t about whether it’s an ad or not, it’s about how we identify with what’s being presented to us. We’re happy to view explicitly branded content if we enjoy the story around it, so as a brand, if you get your customers listening and resonating with the campaign, they’re more likely to commit to the purchase journey.


Dabble but don’t digress


To both Influencers and Brands, make your personality key, define it, stick to it, and be rigid.  You can say no to deals if they don’t seem to fit your general style. Our founder’s strategy for her own work is that when a brand approaches her, if it doesn’t adhere to her Insta-bio, it’s not going to make the cut. This isn’t just for her benefit either. Ill-matched campaigns don’t help out either side and as a brand, echoing our piece on How Best to Partner with Influencers, you’ve got to make sure that you align with the talent you’re after.

Don’t change your personality for a pay cheque, or to tie in with a big star. You can be a tyre brand like Michelin who loves food, but then don’t start talking about something irrelevant. Don’t be about natural beauty and then get a face lift. Don’t be famous for your dog, and do a cat promotion. 

Don’t make ads, tell stories.

Charli Scott