In many ways, the Internet is the great equalizer.
It is the ultimate democratization of information and publishing; the Internet enables anyone with a web connection to become a creator and distributor of content.
In the marketing world, the Internet has changed the way brands think about content. For many, the prevailing thought is that the smartest brands must think of themselves as publishers, ready to use the Internet to bypass traditional channels in order to directly reach target audiences.
Indeed, brands have become publishers. But here's the dirty secret about brands as publishers: a lot of the content they're producing is bad.
Oh sure, there are examples of brands like Red Bull that have developed a unique voice and learned to create content that stands out from the crowd, but for every Red Bull, there are dozens of brands who seem unable, or unwilling, to produce interesting content. Or at least the kind of content consumers want to watch and engage with.
Last Sunday, more than 100 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl, and while the game is usually the main attraction, there's no denying the big game is the most important event on the North American marketing calendar.
Every year, brands spend millions of dollars creating hero content for the Super Bowl, and while some are obviously better than others, among the best ads this year a common theme emerged: Instead of focusing on products, they focused on selling brand attributes and values. They focused on storytelling, instead of selling.
Just look at Budweiser's team up with Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren to deliver a bold message to drunk drivers. The commercial has little to do with the beer itself, instead opening up an important dialogue around drunk driving.
Finding an example of a great ad during the Super Bowl is easy; however, during the rest of the year, finding compelling content can be difficult.
Sure brands tweet, create YouTube videos and post photos to Instagram; but lately, too many focus on content only as a way of ticking off a box on their campaign checklist, rather than really thinking about the content as something a consumer wants to watch, or better yet, share.
The web is a very different place today than it used to be. In its early days, the Web was often driven more by individuals. And while that's still true in some cases, now it's a mass media market, one where so much of the content is designed to sell you something. Although brands now have new tools and techniques to connect with consumers in inherently more meaningful ways, all too often they are not making the most of their opportunity to be publishers.
Brands can learn a lot from companies like Red Bull, the highest selling energy drink in the world, and publishing powerhouse. Red Bull owns a media company (Red Bull Media House), its own racing magazine (Red Bulletin) and a wildly popular YouTube channel with close to five million subscribers.
What separates the brand from others is its customer-centric content approach. Rather than focusing on the product, Red Bull produces content featuring activities its consumers love – namely extreme sports. It epitomizes an extreme sports brand and publishing empire that also happens to sell an energy drink.
The fact of the matter is that people are bombarded with content every day, so if you want them to pay attention, you need to be strategic. Brands must demonstrate that they care about consumer needs and cater content to people's interests. This may range from creating shorter, more snackable content to long-form social ads or even print publications.
And being strategic means you really understand your audience and hire experts that reflect that target. You can't fake it. And you can't over-market it. Content must be created on the platforms your target audience is on, based on an understanding of where their interests lie, and tailored accordingly.
Instagram recently extended the maximum length of its promoted videos from 30 to 60 seconds, offering advertisers greater flexibility.
Among the first to utilize Instagram's new format was T-Mobile, who released an ad just in time for the Super Bowl. The mobile carrier enlisted well-known Canadian Rapper Drake to star in a spoof of his latest hit song "Hotline Bling." Following the hundreds of memes and gifs created after the song's release, T-Mobile cleverly capitalized on the popularity of the music video and its famous line, "You used to call me on my cell phone."
Through the use of an engaging storyline, humour and star power, the brand created a powerful minute-long video its target audience wanted to watch again and again. It was so successful in fact, that a number of people took to Twitter to announce that Drake may have actually convinced them to switch to T-Mobile.
Never before in the history of marketing have brands had the power to be publishers and the Super Bowl is a time when brands bring their A-game to content creation. It's time brands started taking that power more seriously, and hold this gold standard for content all year long.
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.