Building your branded content business: 9 video production tricks to improve results for advertisers


The Branded Content Project, a partnership between the Local Media Association, the Local Media Consortium and funded by the Facebook Journalism Project, recently released the first edition of a branded content guide for local media organizations. Through the Branded Content Project and this guide we are able to bring expert advice, unique voices and marketing leaders from across the industry to help educate and share best practices with all publishers.

Every few weeks, the branded content project will give you a snapshot of some of the expert advice you can find in the guide.

This week we talked with… 

Adrian Fulle, chief marketing officer at Scalable Risk Solutions and former executive producer of Variety’s content studio, about what he has learned from years of branded content video production and working with advertisers from around the country.

Here are his top nine video production tricks to keep your audiences engaged and your clients renewing.

WHAT THE HECK IS THIS ABOUT?
This production guide is a brief look at some production “tricks-of-the-trade” Fulle learned while producing digital video content for brand clients at the Variety content studio. This top nine list has helped the content perform better on social and across all of Variety’s and their brand partners’ digital channels, and was evidenced by our positive analytics results over time. It’s important to note that the results that led to these concepts were related to our specific campaigns and content, and may or may not apply to all branded video content in the market. In other words, take all of this with a grain of salt and think about the platforms where your content is being displayed and what audience is viewing it.

1. FIRST FRAME FACE
Starting a video with a closeup of a human face greatly helps to capture the attention of the viewer and keep them engaged with the content longer. Video content that starts in black, or with a graphic or a wide shot, or anything else, typically did not perform as well for us. This is true for both mobile and desktop, but particularly true for mobile (see No. 4 for why).

2. GRAPHICS OVER PICTURE
When using title graphics, they should be over-picture and off to a corner, not center frame. When viewers see the show’s title graphics (title of the series, or the individual video clip) they tend to click off the video. Our branded content videos typically have a title (usually the same title as the campaign we’re running for the brand partner), and we would have a title graphic on-screen near the start of the video. Sometimes this graphic was coupled with our brand logo graphic, and/or the brand partner’s logo. We discovered over time that graphics over black lead to a disproportionate number of viewers clicking off. We literally could pinpoint the moment where the majority of click-offs happened and that usually lined up with the introduction of title graphics. We then experimented with graphics over picture and that produced better results. However, once we moved the graphic titles to a corner of the frame, or the lower third position, and not over center frame, we had even greater success. In other words, the video performs better when the show’s title is essentially in a lower third position and over picture. This way the video imagery isn’t covered up, and the story continues unhindered.

3. NO BRAND LOGOS UNTIL THE END
If possible, only show brand logos at the very end of the video. We have done both front end title cards and back end, but the videos that performed best for us did not have front end brand logos, and only back end, or no logos at all. As you can imagine, one of the harder aspects of this rule is convincing the client to accept it. We had mixed results in doing that.

4. MOBILE FIRST STRATEGY = MORE CLOSE-UPS
When conducting a strategy that is mobile-first, you will want to include more close-ups in your video content than medium or wide shots. Because the screen sizes for most mobile devices are smaller than desktop screens, close-ups are easier to see and convey more emotion than wide shots do. Imagine a close up of an entrance to a building, rather than a wide shot of the building and its surrounding area. Some issues with needing a wide establishing shot for a scene can be mitigated with lower 3rd graphics over a closer shot (even if not technically a close-up, but at least closer than a traditional wide). Establishing shots aside, close-ups provide a more intimate experience for the viewer which keeps them engaged longer. Most times they are viewing the content on a phone in a public place where there are many distractions in their physical environment. Wider shots don’t convey as much, if any, emotion and it’s easier for the brain to become distracted.

5. NO PRODUCT PLACEMENT OR BRAND INTEGRATION UNLESS…
We constantly struggled to get clients to accept NOT placing products in the content in any way. Our reasoning was that true branded content is just great content that the brand can be aligned with. I often suggested to clients to imagine that really awesome video piece they saw recently and only if their brand could have been aligned with it, imagine the number of views they would’ve been able to rack up. As you can imagine, most clients did not want to agree to this. OR, what was worse, many DID agree to this, then during production would go back on their word and ask for product integration. Every story is different, every client is different and sometimes product integration makes perfect and organic sense. But when possible, it’s always best not to have it.

6. NO TALKING HEADS
Seeing people sitting and responding to interview questions, or talking to another person sucks. Period. If you must have a talking head interview, then show as little of that interview as possible and use the audio from it as voice over for something that is visually more interesting and stimulating. We were pigeonholed into producing talking head interviews quite a bit at Variety primarily because the clients always wanted the celebrity we were interviewing seen as they believed it led to better results. Certainly, some celebs did, but most did not. It’s far better to employ a structure of voice over mixed with interesting visuals to tell a story where an interview is required. Imagine the interviewee is narrating the story. In fact, you can write a great story from their audio.

7. LONG FORM IS BACK … SORT OF
We constantly struggled with viewer retention and completion rates with our content. Taking Facebook’s mechanism for optimizing for retention (paid for 10 seconds or longer views) out of the equation, we discovered that over the last three years, longer-form content has been trending, but mostly on Facebook only. All of our content on Instagram or Twitter was always short-form (30 seconds or less), but the purpose of that content was to drive traffic to the longer-form content. It worked and it didn’t work. Audiences interact with platforms in different ways and generally speaking we’d see higher completion rates on longer-form content on Facebook. When we started, regardless of the length of our content, we see anywhere from three seconds to 18-second length views. It was frustrating. We also know that for most clients, completion rates are not major KPIs. They usually go off of views. However, for us, that sucked. We wanted real completion rates, or at least much longer retention because we were filmmakers and believed that the stories we told, although branded content, were compelling and engaging. Plus, we never believed a three-second view really was an actual view.

8. DO NOT CUT CORNERS
When it comes to video quality, do NOT cut corners. Spend the money on the screen. Even if it means lower margins for you. There are certain creative stories that require lower quality video (i.e. some real-life type story that would benefit from being shot on cellphone video, or something of that nature), but in general higher quality video production = better results.

The old mindset was to spend as little on video production as possible because the distribution was across digital and audiences there do not expect quality. That is no longer true. Now audiences expect broadcast-quality content on digital and as devices, specifically mobile devices, get higher and higher in streaming video quality (4k, 5K, 6K, etc.), and with the advent of 5G … higher quality is the new norm.

9. BRANDED CONTENT IS NOT A COMMERCIAL
Okay, branded content IS a commercial, but it shouldn’t feel like one. When producing branded content you should be focused on telling a great story about compelling human beings who are inspiring or engaging. If what the client really wants is a commercial, tell them to go make a commercial, because branded content is not the same.

THE EXPERT: ADRIAN FULLE

As Executive Producer of the Variety Content Studio, Adrian managed all branded, sponsored and advertorial content for Variety’s brand partners as well as certain original content initiatives for Variety and Indiewire.com. He led the studio’s sales and creative teams to ensure top creative concepts were
established for Variety’s branded, digital and linear initiatives. Tasked with building, launching and scaling the Variety Content Studio from scratch, Adrian ended up helping to drive a new, multi-million dollar revenue stream for Variety and garnered several industry awards for the content they created along the way. Originally a filmmaker, Adrian is passionate about telling stories in the branded space.

What else is in the guide?

The pages are filled with advice for those creating their first branded content initiatives, those who are leading sales teams who have branded content in their toolbox, and those that are creating content for advertisers and looking for best practices and techniques. The articles in the guide are written by experts in the branded content space who have built impressive programs and are able to share strategies to help you navigate through this unique and sometimes complicated area of potential business.

Take a tour through the guide to get action plans, step-by-step instructions, advice and recommendations. And don’t forget to check out the checklists before you get started.