During the first months of pandemic lockdowns, brands, marketing agencies, and digital influencers were told to prepare for a slowdown across all digital advertising sectors, and a subsequent decrease in revenue.
But after an initial dip, digital advertising didn’t just recover–it flourished.
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the final quarter of 2020 was digital advertising’s most profitable quarter in 20 years. Digital advertising as a whole, including things like preroll ads on YouTube and Twitch and banner placements across websites, saw a 12% year-over-year increase in spend. And as for influencer marketing, it surged to become a nearly $10 billion industry, with top marketers saying they expected to increase budgets for sponsored posts by 48% in 2021, according to eMarketer.
So, as brands strategize for the rest of 2021, what advertising sector should they focus on?
BEN says it’s not a question of which one, but which three.
BEN says brands should invest in a trifecta of creators, shows, and music
Founded in 2007 and currently helmed by CEO Ricky Ray Butler, BEN is a branded entertainment company that uses artificial intelligence networks to link brands with creators for what it calls “non-disruptive integrations,” where a business and its products are folded into an influencer’s content instead of advertised to viewers in a standalone ad, or in a type of content the creator doesn’t normally produce.
These partnerships, featuring YouTubers, Instagrammers, Twitch streamers, TikTokers, and more talking up clients’ products in their content, are a big part of BEN’s bread and butter. But it also operates in various other sectors of digital advertising, including product placement in streaming TV programs and sponsoring artists to advertise companies in their music videos and digital content.
All three, BEN says, should be on brands’ advertising agendas.
“For brands that want to make a cultural impact, the data suggests a clear way forward: a triple combination of influencer marketing, product placement in TV and film, and direct partnerships with artists,” Butler says in BEN’s recent whitepaper, published with The Drum.
Each marketing prong is successful in its own way, Butler adds, but inevitably some potential audience members will slip through the cracks. Combining the three casts the widest net possible for a brand’s products to be seen by a variety of viewers.
For example, per BEN’s data, people are 35% more likely to recall product information from digital video ads like those that run on YouTube and Facebook. However, 47% of users have ad blockers. That’s where “non-disruptive integrations” come in, as 88% of views on YouTube and 63% of views on Facebook go to videos made by influencers.
For those who don’t watch content made by influencers–or perhaps skip sections where creators are talking about the latest VPN or mental health app–there’s product placement on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (both of which saw significant traffic boosts amid lockdowns).
And finally, there’s product placement in music videos and branded content integrations with artists. For integrations, companies should seek out artists who have come up with innovative ways to connect to their audiences while live venues and traditional concerts continue to be no-gos.
“Yes, coronavirus has changed things, but the demand for music experiences is still huge and if a brand sincerely aligns with an artist through technology, sponsoring online shows from artists’ homes, or product placement in music videos, then they can truly take a campaign to the next level,” Jake Terrell, BEN’s director of music and brand partnerships, told The Drum.
According to BEN, 83% of viewers can recall brands featured in music videos, and 46% will consider buying the product after seeing the placement. Forty-two percent will go on to purchase it.
“There are studies showing that using pop music increases audience attention, emotion and memory by 20%,” Terrell explained. “Our feeling is if you want to reach the heart and the soul of your consumers then you have no choice but to have a music strategy.”
BEN put this theory to practice with Frito-Lay, Old Navy, Ubisoft partnerships
BEN’s own efforts with this three-pronged strategy brought it a busy 2020. One of its biggest partnerships was a music integration with snack company Frito-Lay, which saw it place Cheetos in the music videos for Lizzo’s “” (34 million views on YouTube) and Katy Perry’s “” (36 million), Doritos in Lil Nas X’s “” (130 million), and Lays in Chino Y Nacho’s “” (64 million).
James Clarke, Frito-Lay’s senior director of media, analytics, and CRM, told The Drum that its music video campaign with BEN “complements our more traditional advertising, and shores up our branded presence in ad-free/ad-light environments while also ensuring we are being additive to consumer experience in these channels, versus seeking solely to disrupt it.”
BEN also worked with clothing brand Old Navy for a TV and film product placement partnership that spanned two Netflix series, one Disney+ series, two series on the CW, and one feature film. Perhaps the most prominent part of Old Navy’s campaign was a scene in Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, where star Tan France took the week’s “episode hero” to an Old Navy location and styled her using clothing from the store.
The campaign generated more than 36 million impressions, BEN says.
As for BEN’s bread and butter influencer marketing, the firm ran major media blitzes there, too. It worked with video game developer Ubisoft to advertise the latest installment in its long-running Just Dance franchise with TikTok and Instagram creators, including Loren Gray, who has 53 million followers on TikTok.
Together, BEN and Ubisoft created the #JustDanceMoves hashtag. Gray and other creators deployed branded content using the hashtag and promoting an associated challenge that asked TikTok users to create videos of themselves doing dance moves from the game.
The campaign generated 2 billion views within its first week, and to date has netted more than 3 billion, per BEN.
What else should brands be doing?
Diversifying investment among these various marketing sectors is key, but isn’t the only ingredient for well-rounded advertising, BEN says.
The company’s own systems rely on artificial intelligence to determine brands’ best pathways for success, and allowing technology to play its part can help companies “identify new, and perhaps surprising, opportunities for investment that can be the difference between a campaign that is good and one that completely exceeds expectations,” Butler said.
“Whether you’re a brand looking to support influencers, filmmakers, musicians, artists or production studios–AI will enable you to truly understand the millions of content opportunities out there,” he added. “If we’re able to guide that transformation with AI that balances the interests of all stakeholders, we can create an environment that fosters growth and continues to drive society forward.”