The Content Strategist

The Best Branded Content of September: Election Season

Last Monday, I shut off the presidential debate after 28 minutes. I was looking for an excuse to go for a jog that night, and after hearing Donald Trump say a word that sounded like “bigly”—more on that later—I put on my Nikes. I figured I’d have plenty of time to catch up on all the shimmies, sniffles, and sound bites over the next 24 hours.

The next day, my feeds were full of the expected noise. Liberals were patting each other on the back as they pointed out Trump’s hypocrisies. Conservatives scraped together rationalizations wherever they could find them. And then the brands came.

Brands were always going to newsjack the election season, but 2016 is the really the first presidential election that they’re doing so all over the internet with branded content. As Melissa Lafsky Wall pointed out in a timely article from last week, that’s not inherently bad.

In fact, as some of the best branded content from this month showed, some brands have done it just right.

Bisquick: “Pancakes vs. Waffles”

Denny’s, which happens to be America’s new breakfast of champions, was surprisingly silent last month as political coverage ramped up. Bisquick stepped in to fill the void.

The “Pancakes vs. Waffles” campaign is full of parody negative campaign ads and the requisite “Make America Pancakes Again” slogan. It’s something that easily could’ve titled too much toward corny, but the humor feels absurd enough to work. (Bonus points for the Belgian waffles joke.)

Bisquick joined Twitter less than three months ago—probably to jump into the election conversation—and it’s already emerging as a candidate that can rival Denny’s. We’ll see if that rivalry can last beyond November.

Funny or Die & Rock the Vote: “Katy Perry Votes Naked”

Getting celebrities to poke fun at themselves while also making them look good is almost a guaranteed win for brands, even if you hire Rob Lowe. So when Katy Perry spoke about civic engagement while naked in a Funny or Die video from last week, you knew it would get millions of views and help spread the word.

Voting isn’t the sexiest topic, and attempts to persuade millennials to get to the polls can easily come off as condescending. But this clip smartly stripped away the dogmatism. It also earned some added relevance once alleged sex tapes became part of the political conversation.

So, yes, while this is an advertising stunt, it’s one that has the potential to be really effective.

Nextview: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to New York City Tech”

As Tim Devane writes in his introductory post on Nextview Ventures’s blog:

“NYC Tech is bursting at the seams with nightly networking events at floors and floors of co-working spaces. We do not suffer a lack of tech activities. At the same time, the perception of our ecosystem as an insider’s game can often be self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating – creating a walled garden that can’t be breached.”

Nextview’s latest piece of content could break down those walls. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to New York City Tech” includes an interactive map, podcasts, workshops, a list of conferences, and more.

This is the kind of free comprehensive resource that can get long-tail traffic for years. It’s also a perfect example of how to cut through all the noise out there with an asset that can help people while also raising brand awareness.

Gatorade: “Burn It to Earn It”

Gatorade has moved past its reputation as a drink that turns your sweat into neon radioactive fluid. (If your sweat comes out in “colored hues,” go see a doctor. Seriously. You might have chromhidrosis.) But it’s still the go-to sports drink for athletes who sweat normally.

The company’s latest campaign consists of a series of videos in which pro athletes J.J. Watt, Bryce Harper, and Karl-Anthony Towns dominate and destroy civilians who are drinking Gatorade without being active. Anytime superstar players mess with regular people, the audience gets to witness some beautiful schadenfreude. And J.J. Watt going for a strip sack on some dude holding a Gatorade bottle is truly beautiful.

Merriam-Webster: Election 2016

Politics ultimately comes down to language. There are speeches, debates, op-eds, tweets, retweets, and more speeches. Most of our time is spent parsing what’s been said, but occasionally we dig deeper to analyze how things are said.

While the first presidential debate was full of empty promises and vague declarations, Merriam-Webster took to Twitter to give constituents some insights on word choice and linguistic trends.

As an editor, I love this stuff. It’s clear that others do too since the dictionary company is tracking spikes in searches on its site. MW even dedicated a section of its blog to words trending during the election and has published posts with sharp analysis. Turns out “bigly” is a word, but that Trump was really trying to say “big league.” Either way, according to the MW editors, his usage was incorrect.

That, my friends, is how to get earned media coverage. Everyone from The New York Times to The Hollywood Reporter to Town & Country (?) wrote about the language trends. While major news outlets stretch every and any angle to squeeze out more political coverage, Merriam-Webster found a way to own the conversation in a unique way. Once the next debate rolls around, the dictionary will already have an audience wanting more.