Video Content and The Social Media Manager

Los Angeles
08 May. 2019

Creating engaging video content that will hold the attention of audiences is proving to be a challenge for both marketing departments and video production companies. Many videos that were produced using lots of resources have failed to launch and are dying a quiet death somewhere in the corners of the Internets. Marketers are now learning that to capture the attention of target audiences they have to tell stories and tell them well, and they are embracing branded content as a major tool in their video advertising efforts. As branded content can sometimes be have many confusing, conflicting definitions, best say now that in this blog we use branded content to mean ‘video entertainment that subtly blends the brand and products being advertised into the story-line and in a way that does not disrupt the viewer’s watching pleasure.

‘Lean in’ quality is that ‘special something’ that makes the viewer stop mid-sneeze, mid-breath, and lean in to the screen to watch what is playing.

The Art of the Story

Strong branded video content needs strong storytelling. The brands that are producing strong branded content – Dove, Chipotle, Pantene – know that they have to think like Hollywood creatives, and they produce content that people will want to watch. But how does one think like a Hollywood creative? What is the process?

As you can imagine, the art of powerful storytelling cannot be summed up in one blog post, and rather than teach the art we have instead identified three questions that marketers can ask themselves as to whether the content that they want to create is powerful, and whether it has the potential to attract the attention of audiences. Answering these questions in an honest, objective manner is important, as only then can the answers offer guidance as to whether you are ready to take your concepts, treatments and storyboards to the next stage of video production, or if you should get press ‘Delete’ and begin from scratch.

The questions:

  1. Does your branded content have ‘lean-in’ quality?
  2. Does Your Branded Content Build on Current Social Discussions?
  3. Is Your Branded Content Actually Branded?

1. Does your branded content have ‘lean-in’ quality?

‘Lean in’ quality is that ‘special something’ that makes the viewer stop mid-sneeze, mid-breath, and lean in to the screen to watch what is playing. For a few seconds, or minutes the viewer is completely engrossed in the content and she is part of the world that is unfolding before her. Pinch her now she’ll feel it later.

How can you identify lean-in quality?

If your video concept has everyone is the room genuinely floored by its wit, irreverence, intelligence, depth of emotions, then it has ‘lean in quality.’ Still, identifying when ‘everyone in the room is floored’ may be at best, a vague method of going about this. A better way may be by asking, will people pay to watch your video content? Does not matter if it is a dime, or a nickel, but if they have to pay some money to get the content, would your target audience do so? Suppose the rules of the Internet changed and each of us had only 10 credits per month to watch 10 videos online, would people use their one credit to watch your branded content video? The answer has to be yes. When people watch your content they are paying for it with their time, and this is something that we as marketers may not fully appreciate, until when cents and dollars are attached to the value of that time. If you think that no one will pay for the content that you are about to produce then best to go back to the drawing back and avoid an expensive mistake. You do not want your content to die quietly on the corners of the Internets.

An example of video content that has this ‘lean in quality’ is the short film ‘Hope Dawn’. The video opens with a woman narrating as to how she came home from an HIV test to tell her boyfriend that she is HIV+, and he answers, ‘I know.’ Afraid to lose her because of his HIV+ status, he knowingly infected her. Whenever we have presented the video the room almost always falls quiet few minutes into the video, transfixed. Lean in quality is at work. ‘Hope Dawn’ is not a brand commissioned piece, it is a true story, narrated by the main character, Hope. (What a beautiful name!) Audiences want to know how the woman dealt with this situation in her life, a situation that they could easily have been in. had they fallen in love with someone selfish like Hope ex-boyfriend.

Lean In Content Affects You

Remember: ‘Lean in’ is not synonymous with sad, happy, or witty etc. type of content. The video content can be silly or serious, but it must be able to make a room stop and watch, maybe break into riotous laughter, or sit in silence and fight tears, or start deep, passionate debates. Lean in content affects you, and that is its hallmark. Years later you may forget the brand, but not the story, and all you need is to come into contact again with the brand, and you remember the story, and your reconnection with the brand is renewed.

Lean in quality has you looking

2. Does Your Branded Content Build on Current Social Discussions?

Good branded content is powerful not only because of the entertaining ‘lean in’ quality that it has but also but also because it engages us on issues that we care about – family, health, sex, careers, self-fulfillment etc. We have discussions about these issues with friends and partners, and good branded content builds on these discussions by adding value and making us appreciate, or question, our points of view. The content is in tune with the things that matter to us, its audience.

How does your brand touch the lives of your customers?

Content that responds to important topical issues is likely to find supporters for the point of view that it presents, and if the content is strong enough then these supporters will become evangelists that will spread the content far and wide across the hubs and portals of the Internet, helping it go viral. The performance of the content depends on laser-focus targeting of these supporters, as they are the first responders to your campaign, and they hold the key in taking your campaign performance from tepid to successful.

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches

Insofar as adding value to current discussions Dove showed us how it’s done. Women in the ages of 18 – 34 form Dove’s customer base, and this audience has historically been manipulated by advertising to view themselves as inadequate and in need of ‘repair’. Skim a couple of recent covers of Cosmo for proof. As a result of this type of media majority of women across all walks of life can identify with issues of poor body image and low self-esteem, and these issues form part of women’s – and men, let’s be fair – daily discussions. Dove was speaking to the hearts and minds of this audiences when it told them, ‘Pause. Breathe. You are beautiful.’ The astounding acclaim for this message is proof that listening to the concerns of your customers and responding with messages that add value to those conversations may be just what you need to lift your brand visibility. Dove certainly did, by adding to women’s conversation worldwide and confirming to them that they are beautiful just as they are – and maybe a bar of Dove soap would make them cleaner, and reveal that natural beauty? Apparently, Real Sketches Beauty Ad is the most watched ad on Internet of all time, and a year later bloggers are still spewing ink online praising – or critiquing – its message.

3. Is Your Branded Content Actually Branded?

Even as we marketers are now forced to think like Hollywood executives we have to remind ourselves that we actually are not. We serve a brand and its products, and the branded content that we are producing should tell stories that are tied firmly to the brand’s values, identity and positioning. As a social media production company, it is our duty at Sinema to keep up with what is being currently produced in advertising, and there are several instances in which we have walked away from watching a branded content video wondering how it relates to the brand itself. This should not be the case. Good branded entertainment has to master the art of coy: though it may not feature the brand or its products it should offer subtle clues that we are watching something about your brand. Just slapping your logo at the end of the video is not enough. One way to solve this is by having your product be the centerpiece of the storyline, and have it so that the product being advertised melts into the storyline and in a way that does not disrupt the viewer’s watching pleasure.

BMW gets ample screen time.

The BMW film series nailed branded content. The BMWs get ample screen time, and they do so in a way that is very organic to the story. The film are stylish and lush, and the films are made by a coteries of highly accomplished artists – Clive Owen, Forest Whitaker, Wong Kar Wai, Madonna, Ang Lee – who have sway with the targeted aspirational middle class audience that buys into the BMW brand. As far as branded content goes the BMW films were a stroke of genius, and the demand for content was so high that BMW ran out of the free DVDs that they were giving out in their stores.


Branded content can’t just be entertainment or we’ll watch it and not think of your brand at all, and it can’t be just about your brand, for then it is an ad, and we won’t want to watch it to begin with. It has to speak to us. Lastly, and even more importantly, is that branded content can’t be boring; nobody’s got time for that.

Los Angeles
08 May. 2019
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