Australasia 2016: Ciarán Norris at American Express

- in 2016, Australasian Insights 2016, Insight Series
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Ciarán Norris is Director of Marketing & Business Insights Consultation at American Express, and he provided the following responses for our 2016 Australasia Expert Insights Report:

In what situations do you recommend using branded content?

The short answer is when it’s the right thing to do.

There are so many different types of branded content that it can be used as a solution for almost any marketing challenge. Whether it’s giving people a reason to stay in the pub longer by giving them something to talk about or getting them to take more car journeys – (the respective reasons why the Guinness Book of Records and Michelin Restaurant Guide were originally created) – branded content has long been able to help solve real business issues.

The rise of digital technology has made it much easier for anyone, brand or consumer, to become a publisher. But it hasn’t changed some fundamentals: attention is essentially a zero-sum game and companies should create branded content, whether it be audio, video, the written word or something else entirely, only when it is going to drive real value.

What about emerging trends and insights into the immediate future of branded content?

There are a couple of trends that are the result of associated technological changes: the rise of vertical video, the establishment of super-short form (i.e. Vine-style video) as a valid format and the confirmation of the photo as the pre-eminent content format of the mobile age.

There are also some structural changes that signal bigger shifts in the current model of client, agency and publisher.

All of the technological changes above have resulted in a world where publishers of all types – whether they be traditional (legacy or pure-play digital), consumers, or businesses – are at the mercy of feed algorithms which decide what snippet of content keeps someone entertained or informed for a matter of moments or minutes.

This has led to the rise of distributed publishing where the publisher no longer cares where the content is consumed, so long as it is (and ideally is shared too), perhaps best demonstrated by BuzzFeed. Therefore traditional publishers, from Conde Nast to Yahoo, are no longer able to guarantee large-scale audiences on their owned properties.

So when brands are considering whether to work with publishers in the creation of branded content, reach is no longer as important a metric as distribution/success in the social space. It also means that brands investing in creating their own content, with no publisher assistance, that have site traffic as a metric, are likely to be disappointed.

For examples of what this looks like, check out the Dear Kitten video content (or TV ads as we used to call them) that BuzzFeed made for Friskies, or the AWOL website that Junkee Media created for Qantas. The former had massive numbers of views online and got the ultimate seal of approval when it was used as a Super Bowl spot, whilst the latter is an entirely funded native content play – the in-flight magazine for the mobile generation if you like.

These are great examples, but they’re also relatively rare ones; in this brave new world, there aren’t all that many who have worked out how to hit the jackpot yet.

About the author

Justin Kirby is a consultant, educator and thought leader with a 20+ year career in industry as a digital strategist, producer and entrepreneur. He chairs and speaks at conferences around the globe, judge industry awards, and advise brands and agencies.