Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Masterchef, Transformers and the Chocolate Factory

Audience fragmentation, an 'on-demand' model, ad avoidance, terrorists! What a scary media landscape we live in. It is mos def branded content's time to shine. But the truth is, since the first licensed toy was born in 1930 (via the humble Mickey Mouse doll), we have all grown up on branded content.

Contrary to popular belief, branded content is not about creating a 30+minute commercial, and it doesn't mean meeting logo exposure quotas in-program. It simply refers to the fundamental shift in approach to communications planning; from placing our ads around the content our target audience loves, to becoming the content that our target audience loves. But whilst the philosophy and the buzz term "branded content" feels relatively new, branded content has been rampant since the Willy Wonka Candy Company was launched alongside the first film adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the 1980's; aside from being a great time for hair and audio reverb, it was also (and more relevant to this post) somewhat of a golden age for branded content. Gen Xer's, do you remember eating your Coco-Pops to this little number?

In hindsight, Transformers is an obvious example of branded content; and so you can explain to your friends why, here's a brief history (courtesy of reputed branded content textbook, Wikipedia):
  • 1974 & 1980 - Japanese toy company Takara launches Microman and Diaclone toy-lines (respectively).
  • 1983 - Tokyo Toy Fair - Hasbro toy company product developer Henry Orenstein 'discovers' Microman and Diaclone.
  • 1984 - Hasbro re-brands the toy lines under the new name "Transformers" and launches the new range alongside an animated series and comic book (produced by Marvel Comics)
Hasbro had previously trialed this three-pronged approach with G.I. Joe, but it wasn't until Transformers that it became the proven successful model that would be replicated through the 80's onwards; from Spiderman and Xmen to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pokemon. In fact, a huge chunk of 80's and 90's cartoons were actually branded content built around this model: 

It is a model and a language that has been built into the Gen Y and Gen X brain, and as we have grown up, it has been able to successfully translate into broader categories. Whilst not branded content in its purest form, the Coles / Masterchef partnership is probably the best recent Australian example. With the launch of the Masterchef magazine, and with Coles completing the loop in a physical product sense, we see the same model used by Transformers and pals all those years ago:

So unless this was a model sent back through time to change the future for one lucky Japanese toy company, branded content is not some scary new beast that must be tamed (like some kind of fire-breathing elephant with a troubled past). Given we were raised on it, it shouldn't be hard for advertisers to understand; and if done well consumers don't need to understand it, i.e. as long as they are getting what they want out of the content it doesn't matter if it's branded or not (and in reality the distinction between the two is not clean-cut). 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Lennon Vs. Draper: The Bed-in for Peace

Product: Peace
Creative Agency: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Copywriter: John Lennon & Yoko Ono 
Art Director: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
PR: John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Media: John Lennon & Yoko Ono 
Let me be clear; this post is not about the moral conflicts that arise in the advertising business (although this example does speak volumes about using our powers for good); this post is more squarely targeted at our egos (over there, past 'dem trees).
The best campaigns always make you feel stupid, insignificant, lazy, and as if you add no value to the industry, let alone wider society (I don't care if you recycle). This is one such example where anyone referring to the "paid, owned and earned" model as anything new is quickly made to look quite the fool; and it was achieved nearly 50 years ago, not by Don Draper and pals, but by a couple of hippies who decided not to get out of bed one day. To be exact, it was 35 years before Facebook, 36 years before YouTube and 37 years before Twitter. 
The twist? It's still being amplified through social media today. Fittingly, I have embedded a video below that will bring you up to speed if you have never heard of any of the above:

How did they do it? High on love (but mostly drugs), in 1969 John and Yoko knew their wedding was sure to be a media frenzy, so they decided that if they were going to be in the paper, why not try and get the word 'peace' in there; it was basic product placement.
"We're trying to sell peace, like a product, you know, and sell it like people sell soap or soft drinks" 
- Lennon, The David Frost Show (14 June, 1969)
That core thought grew into a massive cross-platform-multimedia-Titanium-Lion-worthy campaign.

It launched with a stunt in Martin Place Amsterdam in March 1969, and was then replicated in Customs House Montreal shortly after in May. The stunt was of course, the aforementioned "Bed-In for Peace", and it built a model often (poorly) replicated today - launch with a stunt / capture content / amplify through paid, owned and earned media.

Journalists participated, and headlines were generated. But beyond editorial, the output from the stunt was not only the film "Bed Peace", but also a song; "Give Peace a Chance" peaked at number 2 in the UK (behind the Stones' "Honkey Tonk Woman") and number 14 in the USA.

Before you call them cheap lazy hippies (jeez, where do you get off?), it didn't end there. Later that year the paid component was implemented. In December 1969 John and Yoko bought outdoor billboards in 11 major world cities, including the below example from Times Square, New York:

But it was the next component that crafted a thick velvety layer of icing on the already delicious hippie cake (may contain traces of THC). In 1971 John & Yoko produced a bespoke piece of content that has received earned media coverage every year since - it was of course the song "Happy Xmas (War is Over)": 

By tapping into a seasonal tradition, John and Yoko were able to create something that has added infinite longevity to their campaign, and it remains as relevant as ever, the above clip is just one user's posting currently sitting at over 5million views.

Most recently, and the catalyst for this post, the full 1hour 10minute "Bed Peace" film has been posted on YouTube by Yoko Ono (and embedded below for your convenience); I strongly recommend you watch it:

Did you watch it? If you did, you were just on the receiving end of social media amplification of a campaign (via blogger seeding) that two people launched nearly 50 years ago - beautiful!