BCMA Thinks: Decoding Branded Content

by Ravid Kuperberg, Partner and Trainer, Mindscapes

Branded Content is taking on many shapes and forms in an ever-growing variety of formats and platforms. Yet…if looked at closely, one may notice that behind all the diversity lay some recurring patterns of thinking. Patterns which when mastered, can suggest structured thinking paths, or at least clear starting points for thinking, when developing Branded Content ideas.

With Cannes Lions 2017 just behind us, it’s a perfect time to look back and discuss a few of these ‘thinking patterns’ spotted in award winning work from recent years.

In macro terms, most of the patterns can be divided into two types:

1) Disruptive techniques for deconstructing an existing system (be it a product, a service, a device, a platform, an environment, etc.) in ways which address cognitive blocks such as Structural or Functional Fixedness.

2) Specific techniques for developing a new unexpected offering or experience altogether, born from the brand message, for delivering the brand message. And therefore resulting in unconventional outcomes.

Let’s analyse some of these patterns.

For example, this ‘thinking pattern’ is embedded in one of the biggest Cannes 2017 winners, the “Google home of the Whopper” idea by David/Miami:

It has also been repeatedly used by Colenso BBDO Auckland for the award winning DB Export ideas in 2016 and 2017:

We refer to this pattern as “NEW TASKING”. It suggests assigning a new unexpected task to an existing resource in a system, or to a resource which is in contact with the system. Offering an innovative way to deliver a message or to provide real value.

The key is identifying the right resource and then assigning it with the right creative new task. The resource should come from breaking down a system into as many resources as possible (tip: no list – no glory). The new task should come from breaking down the brand message and understanding what exactly needs to be communicated. The result should suggest using what is already there, in a new way which was never there.

This specific pattern is helpful in overcoming “Functional Fixedness” in which our mind automatically limits us to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used.

In the “Brewtroleum” idea leftover brewing yeast (the existing resource) was used to create biofuel (the new task) in an effort to reconnect Kiwi men with their beer. In the “Beer Bottle Sand” the bottle glass (resource) is used to create sand for construction (new task).

In the Burger King idea, the Android assistant in the Google Home device is ‘new tasked’ to become part of the commercial, and is actually given the task of narrator explaining about the Whopper ingredients.

People are (usually…) also useful resources as well, and can be ‘new tasked’ in a creative manner so as to deliver meaningful value & content. As in the following two examples for Sol De Janeiro (by Ogilvy Sao Paulo) and Volvo (by We Believers).

Here is another classic thinking pattern for generating engaging Branded Content. It’s at the heart of one of the most celebrated award winning campaigns in 2016, for Xbox, by McCann London. It is also embedded in this funny viral campaign for Cheerios.

Both cases suggest launching a creative “EXTREME CHALLENGE”, allowing people to take on the challenge or impact contenders in the challenge. Serving a captivating dose of branded drama. The key here is connecting two main dots: relevancy + extremity. The extremity of the challenge is connected to the brand idea, thereby igniting a creative outcome and insuring the birth of a challenge yet to be seen. This pattern ignites content with an unknown end result and encourages unexpected developments along the way, providing an exciting experience for both contenders and viewers. Just like in a sporting event or reality show.

The challenge can be open to everyone, but is also effective when open to just a few selected participants. Preferably with viewers activated as well, allowing them to impact what’s happening or who is contending. Which is why it’s not enough to come up with just a concept for a challenge, but also invest a lot of thought in scripting the challenge and the unexpected creative elements within it.

Here is a great Extreme Challenge for Fujitsu Air Conditioners in Spain, illustrating the importance of silence. Here is a 2016 Cannes Lions Entertainment digital Extreme Challenge winner from OgilvyOne New York. By the way, a comical extreme challenge can do the job just as well.

The next pattern can be found in this wonderful 2016 award winner from Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, and in this hilarious 2017 idea by Goodby Silverstein & Partners San Francisco for Cheetos, and in the famed Fearless Girl campaign by McCann NY.

All represent a pattern we call “MUSEUM IT”, in which the brand idea/message is translated into an unexpected museum like public exhibition. With iconic museum elements. If the brand opened a pop up museum exhibition tomorrow morning, based on the brand idea/message theme, what creative exhibition would it showcase? How would the exhibition be created? Where would it pop up? What will it invite people to do?

Here is a rather early yet famous digital demonstration of the ‘Museum It’ pattern. One form of Museum It is bringing an unexpected world into the world if a museum, as in the Museum of Feelings and Cheetos Museum ideas. The unique interactive exhibitions and activities people go through and allow them to experience the brand idea/message, rather than just hearing it. Therefore each exhibition and activity within the museum is an opportunity to demonstrate innovative creative thinking.

The creative way an exhibition is created can deliver a powerful story by itself. Co-creating an exhibition with the target audience or an artist can be a potent ingredient for generating interest.

A second form of ‘Museum It’ is bringing the museum world to an unexpected real world setting, as in the Fearless Girl idea, or in this breathtaking campaign by FCB Chicago. The location of the exhibition and it’s interaction with what and who is around it, bring the brand idea to life and tell a story in a most convincing manner. Even an exhibition of one piece, when executed correctly, is enough to deliver an overwhelming result.

Ask Fearless Girl…

There are of course many more patterns to discuss and other thinking methods to explore. Demonstrating how simple thinking patterns are a practical resource for structuring thinking not just in classical advertising, but in Branded Content as well.

The next time you sit down to think about Branded Content, don’t just sit around waiting for a ‘New Tasking’ or ‘Extreme Challenge’ or ‘Museum It’ idea to pop up by itself. Start your thinking process by looking specifically for them, and use your creative talent to translate them into a new brilliant original idea of your own!