The Best Branded Content of July

Upstart brand publishers may be just noticing something the rest of the media world has known for a long time: Audiences tend to dwindle in July and August as vacation season sets in.

As a result, publishers face an important choice: Do you take it easy and stockpile your content ammo for September, or do you double down and win over an audience while the competition is slacking off? In July, a few brands decided to drum up some attention by significantly doubling down.

Thanks to my interns who helped research this article: Aliza Gans, Gabe Rosenberg, and Julia Kupper, who’s really efficient at finding good branded content—probably because she’s German.

OkCupid: “We Experiment on Human Beings!” (And the Return of OkTrends)

If I wrote this column in 2010, OkCupid’s blog OkTrends would have had a permanent spot in these roundups, just like Katy Perry on the Billboard Hot 100. Instead, the dating site pulled a Justin Timberlake and disappeared from the game for three and a half years, only to make a triumphant return at long last. “We Experiment on Human Beings!” might be OkCupid’s “Suit & Tie.”

OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder returns with a post filled with fascinating research and hilarious self-deprecation. The piece starts with Rudder admitting OkCupid doesn’t know what it’s doing, questioning whether the site’s patented algorithm even works at all, and ends up revealing that we’re all really shallow.

(For the story of why OkTrends disappeared for so many years, head here.)

Kim Kardashian: Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Listening to people talk intensely about “personal brands” is the kind of thing that briefly makes me want to quit my job and move to a beach bungalo in Costa Rica. However, it’s hard to argue the Kardashians—particularly Kim—aren’t a brand. And when your brand puts out a mobile game that makes $200 million dollars and secures a top-five spot in the App Store, you win the game of content marketing.

The success of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood isn’t just being propelled by the Kardashian name. The game mechanics and addictive gameplay have been given high ratings. The only downside? This will probably inspire a Justin Bieber game that’s a horrifying mashup of Grand Theft Auto, Dance, Dance Revolution, and a Facebook album full of selfies.

Samsung Galaxy: “Underwater Selfie Challenge”

Speaking of selfies…

As the incredible brand lift associated with Volvo’s “The Epic Split” demonstrated, the holy grail of content marketing is a viral video in which your product is the star. Usually, trying to make this happen is a suicide mission. But this month, we have another winner in Samsung Galaxy’s “Underwater Selfie Challenge.”

In the video above, a diver swims around Lake Zurich and offers people free phones if they jump into the 46-degree (Fahrenheit) water and take an underwater selfie. By the end of it, you can’t help but fantasize about switching to Samsung and taking underwater selfies—not to mention surviving those times you come home at 3 a.m. and promptly drop your phone in the toilet.

The Buffer Blog

If you’re not reading the Buffer blog, you should be. Their headline experiments and in-depth analyses like “The Science of Viral Content” are like steroids for content marketers. It’s non-stop insight that will help you do your job better. Big props to the Buffer team for continuing to #CrushIt through the dog days of summer.

Heineken: “Routine Interruptions”

Many of the best pieces of branded content come from a simple strategy: letting a great creative talent do his or her thing. Heineken’s “Routine Interruptions” stars Portlandia‘s Fred Armison cold-calling New Yorkers on a West Village pay phone and luring them into what promises to be a wild night. Knowing Armison, there’s a good chance that wild night will involve a themed Brooklyn loft party and at least one biking accident.

VidAngel: “This Poor Family Gets Shot With 3,192 Paintballs in 5.3 Seconds to Prove a Powerful Point”

It was a minor miracle that I got through an appearance on Fox News last week without cursing, so I’m probably not the target customer of VidAngel, a streaming service that hopes to be Netflix “minus the bosoms, blood, and bad words.” (Basically, all the fun parts.) But there’s definitely a market for people who want to aggressively censor the content they—and their kids—watch.

In the video above, a family sits on a couch, dressed in white jumpsuits, vaguely resembling a dystopian cult. Then, a barrage of classic profanity starts to pelt them (“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”). And then it physically pelts them as a paintball SWAT team representing every swear word known to man shoots the family with 3,192 paintballs in 5.3 seconds, to prove “every word has an impact.”

(My primary takeaway was that every paintball has an impact. Are we sure that 12-year-old girl is okay?)

Bizarre as it is, the video is beautifully shot and seems to have resonated with its target audience, judging by the hundreds of positive comments and nearly one million views in the past 10 days.

World Hepatitis Day: “Think Again”

Intuitively, one would think most people don’t seem to like to think about hepatitis. This poses a challenge when you’re World Hepatitis Day and trying to raise awareness. The solution? A strangely catchy viral tune sung by hand puppets.

Edelman and IAB: Sponsored Content Study

In mid-July, public relations firm Edelman and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released a fascinating behavioral study of 5,000 consumers that examined how they feel about the brand-sponsored content that runs on publisher sites. The study is packed with intriguing findings—including the fact that the authority and trustworthiness of both the publication and the brand have a huge impact on consumer perception of sponsored content. It’s a must-read for anyone in the industry.

Though as you read it, keep in mind Edelman and the IAB made a curious decision that may have greatly impacted the results. From the study’s methodology:

“Next, respondents saw examples of the actual in-feed sponsored content itself—some examples were mocked up on the publishers website, others were mocked up on the brand’s website.”

If content appears on a brand’s website, it’s not sponsored content—it’s owned media. There’s a fair chance readers perceive, say, American Express’ content differently when they’re reading it on OPEN Forum versus if they stumbled across it in The New York Times. That could skew the study, and, unfortunately, the study never addressed how the results differed between the two groups.

Net-a-Porter: Porter Fall Preview

File this under secretly brilliant.

Net-a-Porter ambitiously launched a new fashion glossyPorter, in February to a global audience. They’ve done a valiant job releasing news-worthy covers since—the first issue featured Giselle, the second issue featured Lady Gaga—but their next cover will take the cake when it comes to earned press.

On Thursday, they revealed to Fashionista that Terry Richardson had just shot Martha Stewart for their fall edition, which is the kind of bizarre, controversy-filled soufflé of a story that’s going to be covered by half of the media world. They stoked the flame with this nugget:

“It is the first time these two controversy-hounds have met but it is, like so much in Stewart’s life, no accident. After debating over a long list of photographers, America’s house-mother superior insisted that Richardson shoot her. ‘Oh, he is cute,’ she will say later, when he comes to say goodbye.”

Associating yourself with Richardson is a risk; judging by recent accounts, he’s likely a very unsavory person, and Vogue dropped him in April following allegations he told models he’d get them in the magazine in exchange for sex. But Richardson remains a prominent photographer, and the Richardson-Stewart shoot is likely to let a lot of readers know that Porter exists. The ethical lines are very murky, but this shrewd move will likely pay off big time for the upstart magazine.

Samsung: “Every Day Is Day One”

Lately, the secret to branded content seems to just be: Make a surfing video. Simple but, man, it seems to work. Samsung is strapping itself to the surfing counterculture as the first global partner of the ASP’s World Tour, which makes sense considering the Galaxy boasts a top-notch underwater camera while the iPhone is as firm of a staple in yuppie culture as white oxford shirts. (I own seven! And four Apple devices.)

“Every Day Is Day One” is a stunning 2:20 video and Samsung’s opening ad for the World Tour. Surfing fans seem to be accepting. So far, 1.25 million people have viewed the video, which seems to indicate surfers are totally down with Samsung as their hip new sugar-daddy.


The Best Branded Content of June

The Best Branded Content of May and Early June

The Best Branded Content of 2014 So Far

The Best Branded Content of 2013

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