The Best Branded Content of August 2015

In August, the impossible happened: ROI went viral.

The most compelling piece of content marketing this past month was a blank four-minute video that made a big point about content measurement: YouTube views might be meaningless.

Solve, an independent ad agency, drove 100,000 views to a blank video through YouTube pre-roll ads. It isn’t news that you can buy 100,000 YouTube views, but it is incredible that you can do it for $1,400 and generate a whole lot of other misleading “engagement” metrics in the process.

Via Adweek:

The Minneapolis agency created a four-minute video that was completely blank—no images, no sound, no title, no description. (A title, “The Blank Video Project,” was added after the project ended.) The only thing it had was a click-through URL to the agency’s website, solve-ideas.com. Solve promoted the video as pre-roll to U.S. viewers using YouTube TrueView In-Stream advertising. Viewers could skip it after five seconds. Solve was charged if a viewer watched at least 30 seconds.

In the end, the video generated more than 100,000 views for an investment of just $1,400—or a remarkably affordable 1.4 cents per view. The ad was served 227,819 times, meaning about 46 percent of viewers watched for at least 30 seconds. Solve says viewers on average watched 61 percent (or 2:26) of the video, and 22 percent made it all the way to the end—seemingly solid engagement metrics. Nearly 1 percent even clicked through to the website. The video did not earn any likes, shares or new channel subscribers, however.

There are caveats: Solve targeted a general YouTube audience instead of a specific one, which drove down the CPC, and the video was silent, which made it more likely that folks would let it run in a browser tab in the background while they did something else. But those numbers are still insane and scalable. “If it only took us $1,400 to hit 100,000 views, any brand willing to spend $14,000 can hit 1,000,000 views,” Kurt Stafki, Solve’s social media manager, told Fast Company.

In other words, “going viral”—or at least appearing to—costs $5,000 less than a Honda Civic.

The experiment is proof that video engagement metrics still have a long way to go. It’s also a reminder that any content campaign has to have broader goals than just views—be it brand lift measures or conversion benchmarks. And Solve deserves a ton of credit for making that abundantly clear with a genius gimmick.

Now, onto the rest of this week’s best branded content—chosen for quality, not views:

Organic Valley: The Brononymous Hotline (#SavetheBros)

Organic Valley—the friendly dairy company that has captured 27 percent of the market share in your mom’s fridge—made a big splash with its hilarious “#SavetheBros” parody video in February. Now, the company is back with eight more Sally Fields-style infomercials that beg us to save our treasured bros from chemical-laden protein shakes (and drink Organic Valley’s protein shake instead of course).

Each video hits on another important cultural aspect that will be lost if we don’t #savethebros—gold chains, hair gel, tribal tattoos, innuendo, etc. And the new twist is that you can fill out a form on the “brononymous hotline” and send a custom video message to a bro in your life via Twitter.

The execution is perfect and resonates perfectly if you are a bro, know a bro, or just really miss The Jersey Shore.

Madden: The Movie

At the risk of turning this into the Best Bro Content[note] Best Bro-nded Content? [/note] we have to include this incredible short film promoting Madden 2016, which made my colleague Jordan Teicher declare, “Let’s All Go Home Because the Madden Movie is the Best Content Marketing of All Time.”

It’s hard to explain everything that’s going on here, but basically, a mustachio’d Dave Franco has to team up with a bunch of NFL players—including Colin Kaepernick as Al Pacino from Scent of a Woman and Rob Gronkowski as a midriff-exposed ball machine warrior—to save his girlfriend. There are dinosaurs, rose petals, and many explosions.

It parodies every action movie cliche possible, and I was hysterically crying with laughter for three straight minutes. I watch a lot of branded content; this has never happened before. And if you’re wondering whether it works, well, the below comment sums it up perfectly:

Facebook: The Not-So-Universal Language of Laughter

In early August, Facebook released a study on how people express laughter while using Facebook Messenger. It was so damn interesting that just my breakdown of it was our most popular post of August, with almost 4,000 shares and 40,000 minutes of attention time. The report gets to one of our most core—and strange—behaviors (virtual laughter) and is absolutely the kind of content Facebook should be producing. After all, they’re armed with the largest and most comprehensive database of user behavior on earth. Why not use it for more than selling ads?

Compassion in World Farming’s Incredibly Disturbing Virtual Farm Game

There’s content marketing that’s effective, and then there’s content marketing that’s affective. Compassion in Farming, an animal welfare non-profit, created this month’s most troubling piece of branded content: a series of games that highlight the brutal abuse industrial farming inflicts upon farm animals. In one game, you click as fast as you can to cram animals into pens; in the next, you race to inject those animals with as many antibiotics as possible. It’s pretty messed up when—30 seconds in—you realize that this actually happens in real life, and that’s what makes this so smart

I treat the meat section of a buffet like a 7-year-old treats the M&M store, and for whatever reason, nailing pixelated animals with shots of antibiotics resonated stronger with me than any of the horrifying essays on industrial farming I’ve read. I doubt I’m the only carnivore who was impacted by these games. Sometimes when one approach isn’t working, you’ve got to try something new. (Even if that something new might give any six-year-old who stumbles upon it nightmares.)

A German Literary Critic Reviews the IKEA Catalog

With a circulation of 220 million copies worldwide, the IKEA Catalog is the most widely distributed print book in the world. (More than twice that of the bible; praise be the MALM Chest.) And yet, it has never been properly reviewed by a literary critic. Especially not a German literary critic.

In this video, Hellmuth Karasek—a man with perhaps the most “German literary critic” name ever—attempts to unravel the mystery of the IKEA Catalog’s success. “It is a furnished novel,” he says. “The characters are forced to crowd themselves between the furniture, they seldom get their say, they barely speak coherently, and yet this work has become such a success.”

Come for the snark, stay for the analysis on the nature of waking. And what the hell—contemplate the nature of branded content while you’re at it. What would a German literary critic say if you asked him to review your blog? In all likelihood, Das ist mir scheißegal.[note] Translation: I don’t give a damn.[/note] But that’s why you’re here instead.

Think I missed anything? Have suggestions for next month’s roundup? Whether it’s targeted at bros, B2B, or B2B bros, holler at me @joelazauskas on Twitter or lazer@contently.com.

Image by sergign

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