The Best Branded Content of October

One of my favorite moments of October was when we were mocked by both The New York Review of Books and Gawker in the same day.

On October 9, we published a piece by our social media editor, Amanda Walgrove, titled “This Zadie Smith Essay Isn’t a Native Ad for Corona, but What If It Was?” The essay in question is an excellent rumination on the nature of inspiration and the city of New York that ran in The New York Review of Books—all inspired by a Corona ad on Houston Street that implored Smith to “find your beach.” When Walgrove first read the piece, she immediately wondered if it was a native ad for the beer—thoughts like these are the by-product of covering the content marketing world every day. “So it wasn’t a native ad. But what if it was?” Walgrove asked. “What if authors were commissioned to write thoughtful essays about ads that inspired them?”

It was a piece I was proud to publish, and we sent it to our daily email subscribers the next day and tweeted it out. And then The New York Review of Books hit us with what can only be described as a sick burn:

Which in turn inspired some great parodies:

The original tweet was even picked up by Gawker, whose famously snarky and smart commenters had a field day making fun of us for suggesting an elite artist like Zadie Smith would do work for a brand.

But the funny thing is, the world’s most respected writers and filmmakers are increasingly doing work for brands. We saw it in the spring, when Jonathan Safran Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders wrote original pieces for Chipotle, which were published on cups. And we saw it again this month, when one of the film world’s most respected directors took up an ambitious project on behalf of a brand. That piece headlines our roundup of the best branded content of October:

The Gap: Four Short Films by Sofia Coppola

No one captures those strange, quirky moments in life quite like Sofia Coppola. That’s why it was such a coup for Gap to get her to direct four holiday-themed videos connected to its seasonal tagline, “You don’t have to get them to give them Gap.”

In all four videos, there’s no dialogue; the stories are driven by music. For instance, in the first video, “Mistletoe,” a baby-faced young man awkwardly jockeys next to an older woman under the mistletoe at a holiday party as “I’m Not Ready to Love” by Promise plays. In “Gauntlet,” a young woman returns home to soldier through a gauntlet of family greetings to the strumming sound of Johnny Cash’s “I Got Stripes.”

The videos—all embedded in the playlist above—are captivating, adding some much-needed spice to Gap’s bland (and much-criticized) “Dress Normal” campaign.

“Sofia has brilliantly translated Gap’s snapshots of these authentic family characters to the screen,” said Seth Farbman, Gap’s global chief marketing officer.

Coppola isn’t the first big-name director to create films for Gap, either. In August, David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) directed a series of short videos to kick off the campaign. (Unfortunately, nobody in Fincher’s videos says the line, “The first rule about Gap commercials: You do not talk about Gap commercials.”)

Honda: “The Other Side”

When my superstar intern Kieran came across Honda’s “The Other Side” video, he sent it to me with a simple note: “This is the coolest shit I’ve ever seen in my whole damn life.”

He wasn’t being hyperbolic.

Created by Weiden+Kennedy London, “The Other Side” is a “double-sided story” on YouTube—when you hold down the “R” key, the film flips between two parallel storylines about a dad living a double life on Halloween.

It’s masterfully crafted and completely trippy. What’s even more amazing is how strongly it connects back to the product—the two sides of the story cleverly tie back to the Civic and its sporty counterpart, the Civic Type R. You can watch the teasers below, but really, you need to just go to YouTube and experience it for yourself.

Cole Haan: “Grit and Grace”

Though just a year old, The New York Times’ T Brand Studio has emerged as perhaps the media world’s most sophisticated sponsored content studio. The latest beneficiary was Cole Haan, which partnered with the studio to create “Grit and Grace,” which reveals the rituals of three elite ballerinas through an essay, crisp videos, and full-bleed images. The story was ultimately designed to promote Cole Haan’s new pointe shoes, but it’s smartly devoid of any blatant promotion.

Tessa Wegert captured the campaign perfectly earlier this month on this site when she wrote: “The campaign includes many of the elements we’ve come to associate with stellar native ads: a captivating story, original content, interactivity, multimedia. It’s the authenticity of the narrative, though, that will ultimately attract readers. There’s nothing in the native ad copy that hints at promotion, just a classic combination of interesting subject matter and solid storytelling that informs and entertains.”

Twitter: NFL Fandom Map

Who really owns New York—the Giants or the Jets? Just how big is Steeler Nation? Is anyone actually a Jaguars fan? These are all questions answered by Twitter’s interactive map of NFL Fandom, embedded above.

As I wrote earlier this month, unleashing the map is a smart move. Convincing sports fans to use the social network as a game-time companion for trash talking and bragging rights is one way for Twitter to have a shot at that elusive mainstream growth it’s struggled to achieve thus far.

Electrolux: “The Next Black”

In two months, there’s a good chance we’ll look back and realize the best piece of content marketing about fashion in 2014 didn’t even come from a fashion brand.

Unexpectedly, Electrolux—a company that primarily manufactures household appliances like washing machines—made a stunning 46-minute documentary about the future of fashion that focuses on technological innovations like wearable technology, eco-friendly materials, and even clothing grown from living organisms.

“The washing machine industry isn’t exactly sexy, so they decided to focus on the clothes that people put into their machines rather than the machines themselves,” explained Philip Marthinsen, head of business and strategy at digital agency House of Radon, which helped create the film.

It’s a clever example of a brand in a supposedly boring industry finding an imaginative way to tell a great story that connects back to their core values. The film was posted to YouTube in October but really made its big debut this month, as it premiered on Halloween at the Indie Memphis Festival and received expanded distribution on iTunes, Amazon, Xbox, and other digital platforms by FilmBuff.

Netflix: Outdoor GIFs

GIFs are proven to increase online content engagement nearly threefold. So now, Netflix is trying to see if that’s true in the physical world.

To promote the launch of the service in France, Netflix put up outdoor ads throughout the city that played GIFs promoting various Netflix programs. The cool part? The GIFs adapt to match the context of what’s happening at that very moment. As Digiday explains:

Is it raining cats and dogs while you wait for the bus? If you’re in Paris, the outdoor ad for Netflix right next to you might just show you an image of Gerard Butler from the fantasy war movie “300” as he uses a shield to hide from the rain.

That’s because Netflix’s new outdoor campaign in France consists entirely of movie GIFs, which change depending on context. On Friday night, the out-of-home ad may show the face of an happy actor with the subtitle: “Finally, the weekend. Relax with some Netflix.” If a big sale is underway at a nearby store, an adjacent poster will show hordes of screaming zombies.

It’s a GIF world, and we are now truly living in it.

Ouija: Snapchat Ad

When Snapchat introduced ads for the first time this month, I figured which brand went first would be a sort of sacrificial lamb, much like the first brands to post Instagram ads. I was wrong.

Snapchat placed a 20-second trailer for the horror film Ouija in user feeds, giving viewers the option of watching the clip. Many did, and they subsequently got so scared they freaked the heck out, reports Mashable.

Ouija’s plot is centered on the classic Ouija board, which was created all the way back in 1894, supposedly as a way to talk to spirits. As a result, you could even argue the film itself is a piece of content marketing—The Lego Movie for the horror crowd—making Snapchat’s first ad… an ad for an ad.

If that’s not meta enough to make your brain hurt, I don’t know what will.

Special thanks to Kieran Dahl, Alyssa Hertig, Dillon Baker, and Camille Padilla for helping comb through all this month’s branded content.

Image by Gap

Get better at your job right now.

Read our monthly newsletter to master content marketing. It’s made for marketers, creators, and everyone in between.

Trending stories