Is Branded Content Best Produced By Amateurs?

By Tom Bannister

This Halloween saw the launch of Instagram’s new video channel. It was a curated clip reel of user-generated content, posted to Instagram, exploring Halloween themes. Much of the content was either clever, funny or, in some cases, beautifully drawn/rendered. Are the advertising and entertainment businesses moving towards a future in which viewers entertain themselves rather than looking to professionals to do the job for them?

There are certainly arguments to say “yes.” First, looking at the digital purchasing cycle, the most trusted brand-centric content, specifically through the awareness and purchasing/comparison phases, is impartial customer reviews and social commentary. We have become adept at harnessing information available on the web and using it to make smarter purchasing choices. Thales Texeira writes of TV advertising in its heyday, “one of the reasons consumers spent time viewing ads was to gather information to make better purchase decisions.” With the rise of e-commerce reviews and social media, customers now gather much of that information online, from supposedly impartial sources.

Nicole Scherzinger  #happyhalloween #zombie #grizabella

Secondly, recent cause marketing campaigns such as the Ice Bucket Challenge succeeded because they empowered a social audience to propel a campaign forward. And, finally (and philosophically), much of the power of the web is the power of crowds, of group wisdom or creation. It was amateurs who became the stars of YouTube, Vine and SnapChat, and it’s likely amateurs who will create the best new content for emerging technologies like virtual reality (check out Shot.IO on Kickstarter ). These trends are what have made GoPro a success.

Cheryl Cole  Als Ice Bucket Challenge

So perhaps there is a strong argument that a viewer-produced channel around, say, Super Bowl commercials could be a big success!

But re-watching the Instagram Halloween channel, it’s clear that all those brilliant creators are adept at holding your attention for 3 seconds, for a brief moment. But erhaps professional creators are able to develop formats and ideas which keep people watching for longer. When it comes to the digital purchase cycle, depending on the product, in some phases like qualification, especially in certain higher cost verticals like automotive or technology, viewers want to spend more and more time with relevant content, gathering as much information as possible. In the latter phases, such as customer retention/evangelism, again for certain products, viewers want to watch and share content, which defines their allegiances to certain brands.

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Lastly (to wax philosophical again), James Surowiecki’s argument in his book “The Wisdom Of Crowds” is that group-think only works under the following conditions: 1) each person should have private information, 2) peoples’ opinions aren’t determined by the opinions those around them, and 3) people are able to specialize with private knowledge.

Does this sound like social media? Social media, more often than not, is an information cascade. This is when a person observes the actions of others and — despite possible contradictions — engages in the same acts. I would argue that it’s the combination of professional (however impartial) and user-generated content that provides consumers with the most accurate purchasing information through various phases of the digital purchasing cycle.

In the end, too much of the discussion around competing media is binary, whether its about what type of company is best suited to produce branded content (agency, publisher, amateur) or the best platform to distribute it (traditional versus new media). It just might be that the answer lies in the balancing of all opinions, perspectives, motives and media.

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