Best Branded Content

The Best Branded Content of June

In case you missed it, here’s the best GIF of a news-filled week.

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Those media interns have probably never run faster in their lives. The Supreme Court had just made one of the most important civil rights decisions in American history, and every news network wanted to be first to cover it—I’m just surprised the woman in black leading the pack didn’t throw an elbow.

On the brand side, a similar race to relevancy was about to begin: the race to the rainbow profile picture. While profile picture initiatives have taken off in the past, I think it’s safe to say nothing matched the scale of this past weekend. Facebook rolled out the Celebrate Pride tool that allowed users to easily put rainbow filters over their profile pictures, and design teams across the country quickly threw together a rainbow update of their company logo for Twitter and other social media platforms.

While it was amazing to see such visual support of the decision, it was still a strange moment. Why were all of these companies suddenly involving themselves in such a contentious issue?

The Atlantic questioned if Facebook’s tool was just another experiment in a long-running attempt to understand social media’s role in cultural movements (spoiler: Facebook says it isn’t, but it probably is). Gawker and Jezebel, fulfilling their role of lampooning all things brand, made a hilarious gallery predicting what brand tweets would look like if the decision had gone the other way.

Meanwhile, Gawker staffer Sam Biddle asked what was probably the most penetrating question of the day:

Though Biddle is over-exaggerating, his point is well taken. For every company that has a proven record of supporting gay rights, there are dozens more that hopped onto the trend but would have said nothing had the decision gone the other way.

However, this doesn’t mean the gesture was just an opportunistic attention grab. Despite the court’s decision, these companies risk losing customers by openly supporting a controversial issue. I’d guess each company that used the rainbow filter had plenty of customer data to sooth nervous execs.

But even more importantly, as a Gawker commenter brought to my attention (seriously folks, always read the comments), these companies are staffed by real people, some of whom are gay. In effect, the brands that publicly showed support are reminding their gay and lesbian employees that they have their backs.

Still, it’s obvious that a few companies had prepared heavily branded tweets in anticipation of a positive ruling. Some were better than others. Visa, for example, shoehorned the ruling into its tagline (“Love. Accepted Everywhere.”), while Miller Lite did the same except with a lazy, unedited stock picture of its watery beer.

In the words of Biddle, the whole affair came across as crass. A few brands went above and beyond to show their support, as you’ll see below, but a photoshopped image and a trending hashtag that riffs on your brand’s slogan isn’t going to win over many customers.

My takeaway? Unlike gay marriage in America, the jury is till out for brands “BuzzWedging” (yes, that’s a real buzzword) themselves into the news. While social media managers rev themselves up for the next big social media moment, let’s use the time to look back at the best branded content of June—starting with a Pride video done right.

YouTube: “#ProudToLove – Celebrating Marriage Equality and LGBT Pride Month”

Unlike most brands that included themselves in this weekend’s historic ruling, YouTube can actually claim that it played a small role in the gay rights movement.

The montage of coming out videos, impassioned speeches, and gay weddings makes it clear that YouTube has been a helpful platform for showcasing these big moments. The coming out videos are particularly poignant—for many, one of the most difficult moments of their lives is posted publicly for all to see and reflect on.

Like Modern Family and other mainstream entertainment, YouTube has helped normalize homosexuality and provided a comfortable platform for gay people to talk about their lives (nasty trolls not withstanding). This video makes that clear without being overly promotional—in other words, when comparing YouTube to other brands, I actually believe that little #ProudToLove hashtag stamped on the video.

Lexus: Hoverboard

Switching gears here a bit, but: hoverboards. Seriously, luxury car brand Lexus built a hoverboard and made a video about it. Why? Well, that isn’t exactly clear at this point, but the video to show it off has taken YouTube and social media by storm.

Sure, it’s a bit suspicious that no one actually rides the hoverboard (despite the claim in the title), but c’mon, it’s impossible not to get pumped about cool technology from that video. Plus the design is immaculate—the board looks like a sexy luxury car, and that liquid nitrogen billowing from its interior gives it that extra cyberpunk charm.

If you click on the link to find out more (I was compelled), you’re sent to a slick microsite that explains the board a bit more and has some links to other interesting engineering projects Lexus is working on. Overall, the video does a fantastic job of hyping what Lexus wants to be known for: beautiful design and innovative engineering. It also doesn’t hurt that the board was a windfall for the Lexus PR department.

Still waiting on someone to take that thing for a spin, though.

Jurassic World: Dinosaurs

The Best Branded Content of June

Confession: I haven’t seen Jurassic World yet. But I do like dinosaurs, and judging by the movie’s box office haul, plenty of other people do as well. If you left the movie wondering where the Mosasaurus actually lived back in the day, then this concise database of the dinos from Jurassic Park has all the knowledge you need.

Overall, the site is a great example of legitimately valuable content that fits in well with the theme of a movie. In fact, the site even pretends Jurassic Park actually exists, featuring facts about fictional attractions and images of patrons at the park that could be straight out of a Six Flags brochure.

For a kid interested in dinosaurs, this site is a treasure trove, and since it’s educational, parents will approve. Everybody wins. Except for the people eaten by dinosaurs.

Google Maps: “Scale Yosemite’s El Capitan in Google Maps”

For climbing nerds, this video is catnip. Some of the biggest names in the sport talking about arguably the most famous cliff face in the world? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.

The shots from Google Maps’ cameras are awe-inspiring, giving a proper sense of scale and danger to these absurd climbs. That jump at 3:50 is particularly heart-pounding—the cojones on that guy.

The video is an extremely well-produced example of something that probably never would’ve been done without that sweet, sweet brand money. For those too afraid to do anything like the people in the video (me!), Google Maps deserves props for capturing the experience.

Casper: Van Winkle’s

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I wrote about Casper’s new sleep-themed publication a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but color us impressed.

The site has published a good variety of articles so far, both in terms of subject area and format. Some—like the one pictured above—are longform feature that discuss serious issues related to sleep. Others are more fun, like this first-person account of a guy attending a cuddle party, or this interesting Q&A with the CEO of a studio making a sleep-walking video game.

The company wants Van Winkle’s to be a pioneer of “sleep journalism,” and so far the results are promising.

Finlandia Vodka: “1,000 years of less ordinary wisdom”

And now, the product that has caused many nights of unintended, terrible sleep: vodka. For whatever reason, hard-alcohol brands have been obsessed lately trying to associate themselves with an idiosyncratic, eccentric person (I blame Dos Equis), but none have done it as well as this undeniably badass campaign for Finlandia Vodka.

The clip introduces the least boring people you will ever meet (subtext: drinking our vodka makes you less boring), who are featured via some legitimately inspiring camerawork and bass-heavy music.

First, we have drag wrestler Cassandro, whose tagline “Be nobody’s bitch but your own” is now my new life motto. I also personally have a thing for those kinetic sculptures made by 67-year-old Theo, so they got me there, too. And then the guy kissing a freaking grizzly bear? God, I’m so boring.

The video just keeps ramping up from there, featuring a reindeer racer (which I didn’t know existed), an old (presumably KGB) double agent, a New Orleans funeral dancer named Squirt, and a volcanic scientist I immediately had a crush on. The video then ends with a collage of these amazing folks with links to quick Facebook bios, a great content tie-in for a great brand video.

Toyota: “Loving Eyes”

Our Editor-in-Chief Joe “Lazer” Lazauskas loves including these cheesy brand videos in his monthly roundups, so this one is in honor of him while he’s in Southern California trying to solve the water crisis.

But seriously, despite the hokey music, this is basically the Boyhood of car ads. The three-and-a-half minute video made for Father’s Day follows a girl growing up under the watchful eye of her everyman dad. The catch is that the ad switches between the father’s perspective to the daughter’s halfway through the video, giving the video beautiful symmetry and some funny moments, as well as some emotional poignancy.

When it comes to Father’s Day content, Toyota is now the champion to beat. If an agency starts filming an ad over an 11-year period with the same actors, we’ll know things just got real.

If there’s anything I missed, send me a tweet @dillonmbaker. Just make sure not to send one to @joelazauskas; he’s on vacation, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Image by Lexus
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