Is your content the blocked short-form snack or the loved long-form binge?

Some stuff learned while dabbling in (branded) entertainment in 2018.

Caveat, I’m no media scientist. Im just a guy trying to get some real attention.

How dare anyone talk loosely about online eyeballs in an age of fake views? I already feel somehow guilty writing this post. As if I am selling myself as the pied piper of some impossible marketing dream. I’m not. How is it even possible to get millions of organic online views in 2018? Moreover, what’s the point of even talking about long-form content when everyone knows the Facebook 3 second rule? Am I here to preach some clever hack, a secret sauce? Nope. Am I promoting our latest PR or media offering? Nope. So, what am I here to talk about? Well, I want to take a moment to talk about the enduring power of quality long-form (branded) content — AKA ‘entertainment’, in an age of crap short-form content, AKA — most online ads.

Organic is rare but rewarding. Paid is omnipresent but increasingly blocked.

Yes, ads need media budgets to drive penetration and be effective — fact. But…

Ad blockers on the rise

Advertising content is being attacked on all sides. Budgets are getting smaller. Time lengths are getting shorter — 3–6 seconds is the new norm (better yet if a gif will do the job, hi-5!) Even when you do manage to squeeze a quality emotive story past all gatekeepers, Ad Blocker is ready and waiting. Nobody wants you to make an ad, not even it seems, the advertiser. A high profile global marketing executive told me recently “The question is not how good are our ads- they are great. The question is where am I going to put them in 5 years?” Another told me they were actively trying to work out which post-Facebook platform to invest their billions of media money in. They game is changing. The simple one-stop-shop solution is increasingly elusive.

“The question is not how good are our ads — they are great. The question is where am I going to put them in 5 years?” — VP global brand marketing

So we embarked on a risky new journey into editorial entertainment content, in hope of discovering if there is sunshine on the other side of the mountain. Today I worked out on the back of a proverbial napkin (iPhone notes) that in 2018 alone Pi Studios has produced and distributed almost 2 hours of quality branded and editorial long-form entertainment that has generated over 2.5m organic views across the social web.

Pi Studios x Boiler Room premieres at ADE 2018

I can’t do the impressions/engagement numbers on a napkin, but I can tell you, they are really good. Along the journey we have even filled real cinemas and garnered real consumer press, which is fun. I’m sure our efforts pale into insignificance compared to major producers and publishers — but I’d say it’s not bad from a one year young studio operating in a ruthless global market. Along this journey I have learned that organic is not the easy road, budgets are still very challenging, but the reward and learning is significant. I smell opportunity…

I Was there When House Music Took Over The World — Channel 4 and Pi Studios

Do you want to be the short-form snack or the long-form binge?

On a journey to learn about what people actually want to watch, I found myself at MIPCOM Television & Entertainment sales conference in Cannes last October. It was eerily empty of ‘ad’ people — I think I saw Black Sheep Studios in attendance and that’s about it. Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, BBC, ITV, NBC Universal, Viacom, Time Warner, Channel 4, RTL, Sky…you name it, they were all there buying and selling real long-form content.

MIPCOM 2017 strangely empty of ad people

Seemingly behind our backs, while ads get shorter and budgets squeezed, the price of original premium entertainment is actually going up and shows getting longer.

The point is, there is an audience out there who, despite what every ad exec has come to ‘know’ in the past few years, is willing to invest their precious time to watch original content. This is no surprise for anyone working in the golden age of TV, where the price of original content is actually going up — yes, I said, up!

Not only that, as the cost of producing quality content and the competition to distribute it goes up, publishers and broadcaster are increasingly open to collaboration with open minded brands willing to come to the table (not just buy the space). Moreover, audiences don’t outright reject brands, people reject desperate crap content getting all up on our faces. There is plenty of space for authentic brand plays in the entertainment space, especially in an age where all content is measured against one simple parameter — does it have an audience’s attention?

As the opportunities to effectively target consumers go down, the opportunity to engage audiences goes up. So ask yourself, do you want your brand to be the snack or the binge?

Your consumers are rarely audiences, but audiences are increasingly consumers.

In some circles it’s blasphemous to call the target of your advertising an ‘audience’. It suggests that the receivers of your message are willing and waiting. 9/10, they are not. We all know this, so we try and make the best interruption possible in hope that it will go from being nuisance to being perceived as welcome break from the thing people were actually there to watch/hear/experience. Fair play, sometimes it’s a glorious interruption.

Yet often, so desperate is our industry to drive our message home, to push penetration to the max, whatever the content, that we are missing the core point of media. To inspire. To entertain. To educate. And yes, to persuade — but how persuasive are you being?

Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, LEGO The Movie — the list goes on. Brands are getting in the entertainment game, the content platform game, or my personal fav, the IP locomotive game.

Disney Executive, Rick Ross featured in Fast Company

Successfully balancing the need to sell with the smarts to first attract and entertain. Real audiences are consumers too, and what better way to get attention than to connect your brand to the movie, show, podcast your ‘consumers’ actually love. Be it on your own platform or in cinemas on general release like LEGO had the balls to try. In an age where penetration costs an arm and a leg and attention is dead, I believe real entertainment is a viable marketing solution for forward thinking marketeers.

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