In one video, a man plunges from space, racing towards the ground as viewers around the world gasp. In another, tricked out bikes fly over obstacles as crowds cheer and holler. Although both these heart-stopping, engaging experiences are brought to you by a massive drink company, you'd be hard pressed to call them ads -- rather, they are pieces of original content that drive conversation and excitement, and offer a view of what the future of branded storytelling might look like.
It's no secret that consumers aren't responding to the usual thirty-second TV ad or fifteen-second YouTube pre-roll clip, and for a good reason; in an age of customization and on-demand content, traditional ads serve as a clunky barrier to what the viewer actually wants to see. The new path forward for brands is to follow the lead of Red Bull and companies like it, and create IP that showcases the values of the company, while not seeming like an overt advertisement. The best way to boost brand sentiment is to enable fans to have cool experiences and see interesting things, not to just pound them over the head with a message of consumption.
Take virtual reality, one of the new frontiers for advertisers and brands. Every brand now seems to want a VR experience, but many brands apply the traditional mindset and miss the mark. An overt commercial just seems cheesy no matter what reality it's in; a PSA might seem well-intentioned but can actually turn viewers off as no one wants to interact with something potentially traumatic, like drunk driving, on that level. But some companies get it right; Ram Trucks, for instance, built a VR experience that allowed users to ride along with a horse trainer and watch him work with a new horse; while they were in the truck, the trainer didn't explicitly shill for the brand, and the sales pitch was subtle. Users walked away having experienced something new and interesting, without feeling like they were being directly marketed to.
Brands can also be more direct if they are also creating fun and unique experiences. Taco Bell's branding is all over its "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" campaign, but because the promotion is focused on giving to customers and encouraging new behavior (rooting for any team, even the opposing one, to steal a base), it doesn't seem as clunky. Simply slapping branding on an event isn't enough to drive sales; brands need to offer something else of value in order to truly engage and motivate customers.
This is why we saw such an amazing turnout for the Electronic Arts-branded pop-up on Dash Radio. Instead of just feeding consumers more gameplay footage, the brand chose to focus on another element of what makes their titles so entertaining -- the music. EA goes to great lengths to make sure that their in-game soundtracks are unique, compelling, and culturally relevant, and that can sometimes be easy to overlook amidst the excitement of controlling a virtual professional sports team. That attention to detail, however, which the brand illustrates across franchises like FIFA, Madden, and NHL, is an important piece of these games' experience. By allowing consumers a new way to access this content, the brand gave fans another way to experience their games, and thereby strengthened the brand affinity for 60,000 users per day.
It might seem risky for a brand to pull back and focus on creating great original content and promotions, and there is a fear of being overlooked if the content overshadows the product. Still, the right content can produce more joy for consumers, and lead them to keep coming back and supporting a product that was willing to provide them with something more than a sales pitch.