ADOTAS – A few months ago, I met up for coffee with a C-level executive from a prominent ad tech company, and after we spent maybe 45 minutes talking about what his team was up to, he casually asked what trends I’d been hearing about.
“Oh, y’know, everyone loves talking about mobile right now,” I said. “And there’s a lot of talk about how this is the year businesses are going to have to show ROI in social media. And video’s major. I’m hearing a pretty good amount of talk about branded content, that kinda thing.”
He furrowed his brow a bit. “Branded content?” he said. “What’s that about?”
“Well, so here’s a situation, for example,” I said. “You’ve got a bunch of web publishers that are bulking up their video presence; they want to host more video content. Now, some publishers might not have the resources to create all the video they want to host. They might be really lacking in certain categories — so it’d be beneficial for them to pull in video that’s basically syndicated, and brands might see that as a prime opportunity to create video that isn’t explicitly an ad, but relates in some way to their brand. The brands get their messages out there, and the publisher fills that gap in the video archive, which ideally drives more traffic to their site.”
“Huh,” he said. Long pause. “That sounds terrible.” I chuckled for a couple seconds, until I realized he wasn’t kidding. “I mean, seriously,” he said. “Is this where we’re going? Do we have to turn everything into an ad?” This, coming from a guy who’s in the business of developing technology that places ads on the computer screens of probably millions of people.
The solution I’d described is, as it turns out, part of what DBG (Digital Broadcasting Group) does — DBG distributes video content to web publishers, whether it be original content created through its own production house or video created by any of its partners, and it delivers pre-roll ads into the videos it distributes. Some of its videos are original series of the unbranded variety, and some are created by or for brands. At the time, I’d recently had a long conversation with DBG’s CMO, Joseph Epstein, about these services and series, some of which were then still in the works, so it was fresh in my mind. And at its Digital Content NewFront in midtown Manhattan’s Helen Mills Theater on Monday, DBG showed off samples of its new programming, as well as CLiP, its new Content Library Platform, which syndicates branded — or let’s say brand-related, for reasons I’ll get to in a second — video across six curated channels, each covering a different category.
If the NewFront presentation (not to mention every conversation I’ve had with folks from the DBG team) was a fair indication, DBG is really not the logo-on-the-forehead bogeyman the exec from that aforementioned coffee meetup conjured up. I think it’s safe to assume they have a good sense of, as we say, “the user experience.” They’ve mentioned entertainment much more often than they mentioned ads. One of their higher-ups referred to the company’s offerings as “a win-win-win” for the publisher, advertiser and viewer; I spoke with one producer who works with DBG who had much more the air of “artist” to him than “ad guy,” and who emphasized the importance of developing branded series that really don’t feel like ads.
While it’s tough to tell from a series of rapid-fire trailers, it seems as though DBG’s getting this branded stuff right. For example, I recall a clip from a show sponsored by I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter that appeared to actually not be directly related to fake butter at all, and I didn’t realize until I checked the press materials the next day that the DBG series “Latinos Are One” was one of its branded offerings (sponsored by McDonald’s). If anything, those clips called to mind the very early days of TV, when a program would have a very overt sponsor, but the program wasn’t actually about the sponsor.
Comedy troupe Baby Loves Candy collectively hosted the trailers, in a bunch of self-consciously cheesy sketches and song-and-dance routines that definitely marked the first time I’d seen any song-and-dance routine about branded online video; bonus for originality, in that regard. Among the non-branded shows DBG rolled out and Baby Loves Candy introduced were offerings from its design-leaning Spaces channel, including one about tiny apartments called “Offbeat Spaces,” the rather self-explanatory “I Live with My Mom,” and “Urban Gardener” (which drew a hearty laugh from the audience, to my own surprise — I mean, I live in Brooklyn; I’m like, yeah, why not plant a garden next to the train tracks? that sounds like an awesome idea!). DBG also showcased the series “Expecting,” which follows three women from very different backgrounds throughout their pregnancies, and “The Bartenders NYC,” which a fellow from the DBG crew described as following purportedly “the highest-paid and most-laid bartenders in the city.” A few of the bartenders in the series showed up to tend bar at the event. Two of the guys decided to simply whip their shirts off while behind the bar. Those guys obviously work out. They were also exceedingly cheerful.
In real “upfronts season” fashion, DBG succeeded in putting on a show about its shows. And obviously it’s up to the brand and the producer to determine what, exactly, “branded entertainment” entails in each case, but on Monday, I didn’t see anything “terrible.” In fact, it seemed as though everyone was having a genuinely good time. We’re still in the clear.