In sponsoring content, brands need to trust content creators

Content marketers have a hard job.

Like performers doing a high-wire act, they’re trying to balance the need to produce something good, alongside the need to get their message heard. And once marketers do produce appealing content, they need to grow their audiences, which can be a slow, painstaking effort.

But there’s another option, and more and more companies have been turning to it. They’re partnering with well-known content creators, sponsoring them to include a message about their brands.

It’s an approach that makes sense for Ryan Fuss, the senior vice-president of media solutions at Blue Ant Media. The company specializes in niche content with brands like Cottage Life and Travel+Escape serving an older crowd, while its indie music brand, Aux, targets a younger set.

“Outside the traditional type of pre-roll monetization methods, we’re creating content and looking for different ways to make money off of it … like branded content and content marketing,” Fuss said, speaking from a panel at NextMedia, a conference held in Toronto this week.

He added he’s been in this space for the past 15 years, and it’s been encouraging to see brand integration and content marketing really take off. Back when he worked at Alliance Atlantis, more than a decade ago, brands and creators worked together a little differently.

“We used to take an on-air host that was passionate about a specific brand and fuse those two together, and we used to call it mini-programming. We’d design mini spots that were designed to not jeopardize the integrity of the audience, or jeopardize the integrity of the brand, but really bring … a brand and creator together to build great content. So it’s really neat to see it evolve that far,” Fuss said, adding he believes there’s still room for this type of marketing to grow.

That might be exciting for marketers, but in partnering with content creators, brands still need to remember to respect those creators’ voices.

That’s key for Lewis Hilsenteger, the personality behind Unbox Therapy, a popular online show that has racked up a subscriber count of 1.5 million unique users. The show started out as a YouTube channel where Hilsenteger would open or “unbox” new gadgets like phones and tablets.

Hilsenteger recently landed about 57 million views on one of his videos, the iPhone 6 Plus Bend Test, which was released in September. In that video, Hilsenteger subjected his iPhone 6 Plus to being bent through the middle, as the stories swirling around bending iPhones had been attracting the attention of consumers and media outlets alike. That was probably the jackpot for Squarespace, the brand that sponsored the video, he noted.

“What’s happening more frequently now is that brands are wanting to tap into that audience directly, so they’ll reach out to me and we can craft out some interesting way of either sponsoring an episode, or integrating a product into a piece of content,” he said, speaking from the same panel as Fuss at NextMedia.

“I think it’s really powerful, especially in my case, where people have signed up to watch content that is essentially about products. So it’s very easy and frictionless to introduce new stuff that they care about, on behalf of brands or things that I believe in or use.”

But it’s not like Hilsenteger will work with every brand that approaches him. If the brand doesn’t align with the type of content he creates, he will turn it down, he said. He also believes that if a piece of content does attract a sponsor, that sponsor will need to trust him to do his job.

“[People] are smart, they’re savvy viewers, and they have a huge selection of content to choose from,” he said. “It’s important to me to not overwhelm the content with sponsorship or with a brand message.”

“The best scenario for me is when they hand it off and say, go do whatever you want with it. Because ultimately I believe myself, and other creators out there understand the languages of their audiences better than any brand possibly could.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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