Contently Case Story: For Shutterstock, the Key to ROI Might Just Be the ’90s

A Clinton running for president. The Full House cast on TV. Millions of people catching Pokémon. Crop tops, platforms, and chokers. A headline from a BuzzFeed article sums it up well: “In Case You Haven’t Noticed, 2016 Is Basically The ’90s.”

Now, stock-imagery and video-licensing platform Shutterstock is tapping into this nostalgia. To capitalize on pop culture’s fondness for our brightly colored past, Shutterstock created a content campaign dedicated exclusively to the ’90s.

“We try to incorporate real-time events in pop-culture and the news,” explained Kashem Miah, global director of social media and content marketing at Shutterstock. “In the past, we’ve done the Olympics. We’ve done Oscars content. It made sense for us to really explore this nineties concept.”

The centerpiece for Shutterstock’s new campaign is a video with three faux ’90s commercials for contemporary businesses.

“Borrow-A-Home,” based on Airbnb, is modeled after a Barbie Dreamhouse commercial—complete with sparkles, an upbeat jingle, and promises of blissful domesticity. “SwipeMate,” the detailed dating app that resembles Tinder, is reminiscent of the Gak ads, with its fisheye lens, wacky voice-over, and bold fonts. And “Kalmbucha,” your local hipster kombucha brand, looks like an old Bubble Tape ad with hyper-stylized pop art and cartoon cutouts.

Borrow-A-Home’s commercial features a jingle about the invasiveness of occupying someone else’s home, while SwipeMate promises “super-swipes” that reveal the home address and social security number of your crush. (“Double tap your swipe mate, and our personal drone will show you what that special someone is up to right now!”)

Though the ads are a humorous way to travel back in time, the campaign’s purpose goes beyond evoking nostalgic laughs.

“There is definitely a business case that we have made for these videos and why we’re pushing them so hard,” Miah said. “We have clients who want to do exciting things with stock imagery and stock footage, so for us, the campaign is an opportunity to showcase what’s possible with Shutterstock.”

The video showcases both the quality of Shutterstock’s library and the creative features possible with Shutterstock Editor, the platform’s proprietary image and video editor, such as the ability to add filters, text, or brand logos.


While video is the focal point of the campaign, written content also plays an important role. Miah and his team published ’90s-focused posts to Shutterstock’s blog to hype the content before the video release.

“We’ve been creating all of this nineties-led content,” Miah said. “Contently authors have done research and put really great stories together that we’ve published leading up to the videos to set the stage.” These stories range from trend pieces that examine how ’90s cultural icons influenced the marketing landscape, to more tactical articles, like how to use a fisheye lens to achieve a ’90s-inspired aesthetic.

“Our target audience—millennials—grew up with these commercials. We wanted to bring the memories back with modern products,” Miah said. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do with the commercials is say, ‘Everything you see here can be done using Shutterstock assets.'”

The new campaign is Shutterstock’s second go at combining pop culture with branded content. Around this time last year, Shutterstock released a campaign inspired by the HBO series Game of Thrones. The video parodied the show’s most prominent families with commercials for fake companies, such as Air Targaryen.

The Game of Thrones experiment was extremely successful from a PR perspective, getting picked up in over 60 media outlets including BuzzFeed and Mashable.

With the ’90s project, however, the stakes were higher. The success of the Game of Thrones campaign allowed Miah and his team to work with a larger budget for production and distribution. This time around, the KPIs needed to focus on more than just press coverage.

“With the nineties campaign, we really focused on driving targeted traffic to the content,” Miah said.

To distribute the videos, Shutterstock partnered with Digg, a news aggregator, and tapped an SEO agency to help drive organic visits. The marketing team also undertook a company-wide SEO initiative to educate employees on how and where to share company content.

So far, the project has produced promising results. In its first week, prior to the Digg promotion, the video saw over 10,000 views and sparked over 5,000 interactions on Facebook, according to Miah. In the two months since its launch, the three videos have generated over 165,000 views on YouTube and inspired more than 4,000 clicks to the footage section of Shutterstock’s main page.

The success of the campaign, according to Miah, was more than just lucky trend spotting. “It wasn’t just a blog series,” he said. “It was a strategic campaign that began as research and content production through Contently, then developed into nineties-style commercials, a partnership with Digg to create a content hub, and distribution across our owned channels.”

Image by Pexels / CC Zero
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