Best Branded Content

The Best Branded Content of July

What makes a piece of branded content good?

I’ve been writing this monthly roundup of the best branded content for the past 18 months (save for last month, when Dillon Baker did all too good a job filling in for me) and truthfully, I’m still trying to nail down a firm answer to this subjective question.

Most people I meet in the industry are trying to do the same thing.

I can rely on my own opinion of what’s good, but no CMO stays employed just because I give something two thumbs up. To go beyond intuition, I look at any available stats. YouTube views give me a big, shiny number to point to, but they’re also easily juiced by pre-roll buys—with a big enough media budget, any brand can appear to go viral. Usually, I sense-check that number with Sharedcount, a great tool for figuring out how many times a URL has been shared. Shares are an imperfect stat, but they provide a decent gauge for how much people are championing a piece of branded content. This heart-warming TD Ameritrade video, for instance, has over 4.1 million YouTube views, while this pretty hilarious explainer featuring Kumail Nanjiani has just 80,000 views. However, the Jet video has over 1,000 more shares (5,788 to 4,636), not to mention 100 percent more Kumail. Based on that info, I’d bet anything that TD Ameritrade video’s views have been inflated by pre-rolls.

When evaluating content, I also need to factor in the larger context of each piece—how it fits into a larger campaign, how it aligns with the brand’s goals, how much press it’s gotten, etc. As my boss Shane Snow has pointed out, Oreo’s famous Super Bowl tweet was nothing special; an innocuous Justin Bieber tweet the same day got significantly more engagement. But what made the tweet such a success was that every damn advertising journalist on the planet wrote about it, giving the classic cookie a reputation as innovative.

Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space for Red Bull wasn’t a huge success just because of the millions who viewed the live stream and the 40 million-plus who watched it after; it was also a win because it fundamentally reinforced Red Bull as a badass, adventurous brand, giving its far-reaching content efforts even more credibility.

And’s explainer video with Kumail Nanjiani is especially awesome, not just because it’s really funny, but also because it’s a great piece of bottom-funnel content. Usually, funny branded content is top-of-funnel territory, work that leaves you with positive associations so you’ll buy something down the road. Jet’s video skips all that bullshit and simply makes you crack up by reminding you that “five pounds of mayonnaise is actually a fundamentally ridiculous thing to buy” while simultaneously convincing you to sign up for its ingenious service, which delivers shopper-club savings on normal-sized items. is already being called the Amazon killer, but regardless of whether that’s true or not, I think the company could demolish how marketers think of content’s role in the funnel.

Ultimately, I just end up throwing all of these factors in a giant pot to see what comes out smelling the best. But we’re also working on a formal way to score branded content for these things, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to email me ( and Jordan (, who does all the work and is better at math.

And now, onto the rest of the best branded content of July…

(Props to our awesome intern Julia Schur for helping round these up. Please follow her; she tweets way too many smart things to only have 242 followers).

Coca-Cola: “El SMS”

One of the smartest things a brand can do is give a very talented person the budget and creative freedom to tell a story before getting the hell out of the way. That’s what Coca-Cola did in its latest short film in its “Crossroads” series, tapping Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk, to direct a short film about two close teenage male friends, one of whom who has a big secret revealed when he leaves his phone unattended. The banter is spot-on, the climax poignant, and although Coca-Cola’s product placement lingers for a beat too long, it also makes the company part of the feel-good ending. It’s already earned over 1.5 million views on YouTube, thumbs-up votes, and over 40,000 shares.

This is the third and final film in Coca-Cola’s “Crossroads” series, in which teenage friends hit crucial moments in their lives and are faced with the challenge of stepping up to support one another. In reality, these big teenage moments usually don’t end with a happy ending, but Coca-Cola’s films successfully immerse us in a world where they do.

(Full disclosure: Coca-Cola is a Contently client.)

GE: #DroneWeek

Last week, GE held #DroneWeek, five days of Periscope live streams from a tricked-out drone that flew across the country and filmed GE machines as they endured tests in apocalyptic conditions (giant hail! fire! frogs raining from the sky!). The appeal was twofold: First, these are tests that few human beings have ever seen before, and second… DRONES!

The campaign sparked a good amount of press, though it’s hard to track the success of a Periscope campaign. Still, you have to give GE credit for trying out something fairly ambitious on a new channel (even if I do believe Periscope has very limited potential for brands). Most of all, #DroneWeek is just an awesome idea with #SharkWeek potential; I can easily see the company learning from what worked and didn’t work, and hitting it big in years to come. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll find ourselves eagerly watching a movie in which a semi-comatose Tara Reid gets sucked into a tornado of drones.

Portal A: “Is Man… Kind?”

As I wrote two weeks ago, ad shop Portal A’s parody of Airbnb’s kind of unnerving “ManKind” campaign is just brilliant. A video like this shows how these guys are funny, fast, and damn good at what they do. Bonus points because agencies are usually terrible at doing content marketing of any kind for themselves.

JPMC: “Brownsville: Revitalizing a Community, One Person at a Time”

In July, JPMorgan Chase relaunched its website to mimic its mobile app, putting content front and center. What’s most impressive is the quality of that content. For example, take “Brownsville: Revitalizing a Community, One Person at a Time,” a five-part series of essays and videos that tells the tales of community leaders fighting to revitalize aspects of the Brooklyn neighborhood, from the justice system to educational opportunities to entrepreneurialism and mentorship. One of the world’s biggest financial institutions diving into local reporting may raise some eyebrows, but the quality of the stories is inspiring and worth checking out for yourself.

(Full disclosure: JPMC is a Contently client.)

Airbnb: #HostWithPride Film

Airbnb’s “ManKind” campaign might have gotten off to stronger start if the company simply led with a different piece of content. #HostWithPride is an excellent brand film, a four-minute long examination of the limitations and fears LGBTQ couples face when they choose where to travel. It’s an issue that most straight people don’t think about a lot, so kudos to Airbnb for highlighting this issue with a meaningful video.

The film even led to some useful dialogue about Airbnb’s service. When Airbnb hosted the video on its Facebook page, one user expressed his frustration that the company doesn’t provide the option to indicate an LGBT-friendly listing. It eventually sparked an interesting discussion, and the company representation responding claimed to forward the request to the product team.

I’m probably being overly optimistic, but this could be a situation where a piece of content leads to an important internal dialogue that makes Airbnb’s product stronger.

HubSpot and Moz: “A Big Crazy Publishing Volume Experiment”

 The Best Branded Content of July

The most common question I hear from content marketers is “How much should I publish?” It’s a difficult question to answer—though we’ve tried—and the truth is the answer differs for everyone. The most successful publishers take a data-driven approach and try out different iterations. Moz and HubSpot did just that, changing their publishing volume and frequency, measuring the impact, and revealing all the findings in two fascinating (and very detailed) reports. The reports made me rethink my content strategy, and I bet they’ll have a similar effect on you.

Cornetto: Two Sides

Cornetto is back with the latest short film in its “Love Stories” series, and what can I say: I’m a sucker for both a good prom story and YouTube experiments.

Similar to Honda’s “The Other Side,” the story alternates perspective, flipping between the film’s two protagonists, Josh and Carly, as Josh tries to ask Carly to prom. The dual perspectives feels hokey until the final dance scene, when it all comes together and the video becomes absolutely hilarious.

It also brought back some really traumatizing prom memories of my own, but that’s a story for another roundup. Have anything you think we missed? Wanna chat about teen movies? Hit me up @joelazauskas on Twitter and help me convince my boss that I’m a content marketing influencer.

Image by CornettoT

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