Political campaigns and media are not the only ones embracing long form content. With the rise of Netflix and online ad blockers and the decline of traditional television viewership, consumers are simply tuning out and turning off traditional advertising. In response, big brands are turning to new advertising techniques that inform and entertain more than directly sell.
These trends suggest long form content will not be relegated to a brand’s YouTube channel, but instead emerge as a key way marketers reach and engage consumers. Advertisers will need to find new opportunities with new digital platforms like Hulu or Amazon Prime, while competing to create the high quality, compelling content to which users have grown accustomed. With so much consumer choice, brands are now competing for the attention of a user whose preference is watching House of Cards on Netflix, where there are no ads. Ads need to be high-production and offer quality entertainment so that audiences want to watch them and have reason to seek them out and share them.
While the 30 second television spot is far from dead, successful brands are adapting to a new consumer-driven landscape, producing less heavy-handed content to appeal to the modern cynical viewer. When we took a look at the online campaigns that have gone viral, we found that they tend to be genuine, endearing, or humourous, connecting users to the traits brands try to represent. Red Bull sells adventure, Coca-Cola sells friendship and Nike sells athletic ability.
The old adage that Internet content has to be short and sweet to appeal to attention-deprived Internet users doesn’t hold as much weight anymore. Instead, companies like Pepsi are connecting with audiences using lengthy ads. Recently, Pepsi created a six-minute video for the Chinese New Year. The ad celebrates the year of the monkey using ‘The Monkey King’, an 80s TV show derived from a classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West. With more than 20 million views, the video ties Pepsi’s generational marketing to the impact ‘The Monkey King’ has had on many generations in China. This is the focus of the ad, and it takes much longer than 30 seconds for the Pepsi logo to make an appearance.
Closer to home, Dove uses long form content to position itself as a champion of male role models and positive body image. Its online videos explore these themes, the longer format delving into fatherhood, community leadership and self-esteem in ways that are thought-provoking, while complementing Dove’s traditional advertising efforts. Millions of views later, Dove’s ad proves audiences are interested in longer videos. So much for our short attention spans! If your content is compelling, your audience will stop channel or web surfing to take it in. Traditional advertising targets the viewer, while successful long form advertising attempts to reach their audience more organically by targeting shared themes and feelings that viewers can connect to the brand .
Long form marketing immerses the viewer. When digital advertising is captivating, it’s more likely viewers will add a comment or share it with personal networks. Not only do these social media interactions help spread the ad, they add social proof – when something is shared online, it has been vetted by someone in your network. As such, people are more likely to click on ads when the source is a friend or a family member rather than a company. The Facebook like button and referral programs from online retailers all use the concept of social proof; people trust their networks more than marketers. Long form content is able to tap into this human characteristic in the same way that makes online reviewers like Yelp,TripAdvisor, and celebrity endorsements (like the Monkey King) so authoritative.
This new, longer approach is not limited to video. Recently, Shell partnered with the New York Times to produce an immersive digital takeover of its site. Interactive and animated, the ad discusses global urbanisation and how governments and corporations can work together to adapt to this trend while decreasing their environmental footprint. Adeptly showing that the medium truly is the message, the ad positions Shell as a forward thinking and innovative company – terms not commonly associated with oil companies.
The New York Times is not alone in experimenting with long form advertising. Recently, Turner Broadcasting announced that CNN, its flagship network, plans to launch its Native Plus platform. This new approach will ditch 30 second commercials in favour of two-to-three minute vignettes. Turner Broadcasting claims it is a less intrusive format for consumers and more powerful for marketers. If successful, the new format could mean that spectacles like the Super Bowl will be a completely different experiences.
The decline of traditional media consumption and the emergence of streaming video, tables and smartphones has advertisers migrating to new platforms and tactics. Long form content is one such promising tool. It offers tools for marketers, provides enjoyable and informative content for consumers, and for beleaguered traditional media companies, hope in the form of new revenue.
Photo: “SF Bridge II” by Folkert Gorter