Best Branded Content

The Best Content Marketing of February: 7 Brands That Mean Business

Most days, I sit at my desk writing and editing articles, working on Contently’s marketing collateral, and trying not to let our company Slack take over my life. But every so often, I get to go to sales meetings to talk about the nuances of content marketing. It’s nice to get out of the office, trading my t-shirt and sneakers for blazers and dress shoes. The days feel like middle school field trips, only with less hormonal angst and no boxed lunch.

My purpose in these meetings is to talk about how we approach content marketing. What trends do we see right now? Which brands are doing a good job? Where is the industry going? But I also get to hear people’s challenges, questions, and perceptions. One topic that repeatedly comes up during our discussions is ideation. Marketers often rattle off story ideas they want to pursue, but they’re not sure if they’re ready to start creating.

That’s why showing them specific examples is crucial. Once they see how the brands they know invest in content, then the ideas they bring to the table suddenly aren’t so daunting. All brand publishers have to start somewhere; the trick is to commit and start executing. Because as February’s best content marketing shows, good ideas and a little budget can go a long way.

MailChimp: Did You Mean?

Email service providers¬†aren’t supposed to be cool. Their technology fuels a lot of successful content marketing, but very few people wake up in the morning, butter their toast, and get excited about A/B testing subject lines. It’s just a tough product to brand. However, if any ESP has figured out how to be cool, MailChimp is clearly it.

MailChimp first stood out with its whimsical name, logo, and design. Its latest marketing push, “Did You Mean,” only helps separate it from competitors. After the company noticed people mispronouncing its name in ads, the marketing team decided to turn the mistakes into jokes. MailChimp created ads and websites for nine fake brands (JailBlimp, FailChips, SnailPrimp, etc.). Now, if you search for the brands online, Google asks if you meant to look for MailChimp, which is such a clever SEO play. Although, if you’re searching for MaleCrimp, you may have bigger issues to worry about than email newsletters.

Domino’s: Wedding Registry

Domino's wedding registry

I got married last summer, and the biggest issue my wife and I had was figuring out the registry. Everyone goes for places like Macy’s and Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie; I wanted the NBA Store. (It didn’t happen.) But if we knew we could’ve added pizza to our list, we both would’ve been happy.

The concept may seem a little ridiculous, but a Domino’s Wedding Registry solves a legitimate customer need. Just about everyone likes pizza, and most people don’t get to eat enough at weddings. Plus, pizza allows guests to be creative with their gifts. Instead of giving the bride and groom some overpriced household item they don’t really want (we ended up with six of the same Anthropologie pillow because the registry website malfunctioned), you get to be the hero who supplies nourishment during Uncle Larry’s third Journey request.

Goat, Wolf, & Cabbage: Secret Hitler

secret hitler game

Cards Against Humanity has shock value appeal, but people seem to lose interest in it because there’s no real purpose. I’ve always wondered, what would happen if the creators could take the vibe of the game and apply it to something with more structure? Now, we have an answer: Secret Hitler.

Following¬†a Kickstarter campaign that netted $1.4 million, one of the original minds behind Cards Against Humanity partnered with an author and a video-game producer to make a card game of “social deduction,” where players are split into secret teams of liberals and fascists. The liberals have to stop the fascists before their leader gets elected, making it the most realistic game of all time.

After Secret Hitler came out in February, the creators mailed the game to all 100 U.S. senators, which led to a ton of earned media. That distribution strategy sounds like it came from someone with a very, very good brain. 1

MEL Magazine: Till ICE Do Us Part

MEL magazine

We stopped using the term “brand journalism” years ago, but this story from Dollar Shave Club’s MEL Magazine got me rethinking that decision. Reporter and documentary filmmaker Leighton Woodhouse looks at what happens when an illegal immigrant is both a felon and a family man. Through his eyes, we see how one Mexican family gets torn apart after a ticket for a broken headlight gets a former criminal deported. With this feature, MEL continues its run as one of the most accomplished brand pubs out there.

Walmart: The Receipt

There’s a long history of Hollywood filmmakers putting their stamp on commercials. The best example is probably “The Hire,” a series of BMW short films starring Clive Owen and helmed by directors like Guy Ritchie and Tony Scott. But everyone from Steven Spielberg to Wes Anderson has flirted with the brand side at some point. These partnerships work because the brands wind up with much-needed artistic credibility, and the directors get paid a lot to play around.

Last month, Walmart recently decided to class up its marketing with some auteurial love, getting Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad), Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), and Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) to create their own unique short films based on the same receipt. The result is a trio of clips that tell the kind of complete stories you won’t see from typical commercials.

Think With Google: The Case for Diversity in Advertising

think with google

While the old media model neglected minorities, new media was supposed to make it easier for audiences to see different kinds of people. Or at least, that was the idea. As YouTube director of diverse marketing Oona King writes, “The demographic shift of the ad audience has far outpaced the demographic shift of the ad industry.”

We may be finally starting to see some progress. In a recent survey, Google and market research firm Ipsos found that two-thirds of black millennials in the U.S. said YouTube is a place where black people have a voice. In a thought leadership post outlining the key results, King uses these kind of stats to argue that it’s time for a more inclusive advertising landscape. It’s both a good look for Google and a good example of how original surveys can impact your audience.

Van Winkle’s: What Happens To Our Sleep in Various Stages of Love?

van winkle's

Some brands get stuck covering niche subjects, which can challenge even the brightest creatives. But the editorial team at Van Winkle’s, the digital publication for the mattress company Casper, gets to write about the universal topic of sleep, which lends itself to so many stories spanning science, culture, and health.

A few weeks ago, Van Winkle’s science editor Theresa Fisher wrote a compelling rundown of how love impacts sleep (“Researchers have compared lovelorn behavior to symptoms of a cocaine high”). The article is not quite hard journalism, but it’s both an educational and entertaining deep dive on a topic that should keep you coming back for more.

  1. Also, can I get a mulligan on my wedding registry? So many good things I missed out on.
Image by MailChimp
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