By Ben Zimmerman, president at Media Design Group.
Buying spots on major networks is easy. Well, maybe it’s not that easy. Developing a good advertisement admittedly takes time—and standing out from the crowd in 2022 takes a modicum of talent (what with the perpetual onslaught of digital content, social ads and more available on-demand at all times). However, with the right resources, it’s possible for any old agency to whip up flashy creative, place the right ads at the right time and call it a day.
Partnership opportunities are a different breed. Partnerships center around the concept of identifying an entity—be it a sports league, movie franchise, TV show—and joining forces to produce snack-worthy content that resonates with that brand’s target audience. While driving successful brand partnerships can present a more difficult challenge on the surface, when done right, they can activate audiences in ways that conventional media cannot.
Take the wildly popular neo-western Yellowstone, for example. As a Paramount Network Original, viewers can watch the show’s early seasons on NBC’s Peacock streaming service (and purchase them on Amazon Prime). The most recent season started streaming on Peacock on March 28, 2022, which requires a cable subscription. Regardless of where users stream the show, it’s safe to say there are quite a few fans. By combining cable and streaming (and the additional on-demand channel of Amazon Prime), the show has reached a variety of users on the platforms that they prefer. People love their content so much that they’re thirsty for more.
So how does a partnership play out in this scenario? Through the power of custom content. Advertisers team up with networks to create custom content that’s tailored to an already devout demographic. For example, advertisers can work with the Yellowstone team to tease behind-the-scenes footage to Prime viewers for next week’s episode. This can materialize as a 30-second TV spot or a longer-form social video that can be pushed out across numerous channels to engage users at their own convenience (even if they’re away from their TV sets).
The key here isn’t the creative or the ad itself. It’s the partnership that truly matters. You’re giving your partner the reins to steer the horse (if we’re sticking with the western metaphor). They’re providing the content that their audience already wants. They’ve already hooked them—it’s a matter of delivery at this point. As the advertiser, you’re simply connecting the dots for them and overlaying their content with your data-driven insight to reach viewers on channels that have the most reach.
Make It Authentic
The concept of “authenticity” gets bandied about in the creative world. But it’s for good reason, as brand building is undeniably rooted in concepts of truthfulness and legitimacy. After all, everyone’s selling something. Much like a sports team is subtly selling its brand in the form of a logo to its diehard fans, Yellowstone is pushing a franchise to its audience. But the trick is to tell the story in a way that engages and makes your audience feel valued without pandering to their needs. No one wants to be sold to. So, how can you weave that idea into a brand partnership? It’s up to you, dear advertiser, to do so with authenticity.
I’ve written about the power of unlikely pairings when I detailed the partnership between Tractor Supply and the NBA. Best known as a rural retail store that supplies products to home, equine and livestock owners, Tractor Supply probably isn’t the first company associated with the NBA, an organization with teams that are largely based in large metropolitan areas. But when you consider Tractor Supply’s ethos, there’s more overlap than you may expect. During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Tractor Supply’s CEO issued a message of unity in the face of social injustice. Knowing the NBA is an organization that openly lives by its principles, it makes sense that Tractor Supply would partner with a company with whom they share core values.
How Do You Measure Sucess In A Brand Partnership?
Identifying a partner with a shared mission or target audience is a big chunk of the partnership puzzle. But tracking success—and identifying room for improvement—is equally important. As is the case with any digital media engagement, it’s essential to have the data to back your decision and the metrics to prove that the partnership is a true success.
The concept of brand awareness is one of the most powerful preliminary measurements of success. Whether your brand is looking to drive awareness to a brand or a product, you want your audiences to recognize and remember your efforts, with the ultimate goal of driving them down the path of purchase. Without awareness, your efforts will be long forgotten. Brand awareness or market research surveys can help understand if people remember your content.
In market research, the ideas of aided or unaided brand lift can help solidify brand awareness. At its core, aided awareness is the number or percentage of users who are aware of your brand when asked. Unaided awareness refers to marketing efforts free of external influence. While the former gauges brand recognition, the latter tracks brand recall. Let’s say I’m trying to gauge your favorite soda. When prompting an aided response, I may provide answers to the questions (e.g., Coke and Pepsi) before you answer. However, if you were to answer “Coke” completely unprovoked, you would have displayed unaided awareness.
It’s possible that both aided and unaided awareness can help determine the effectiveness of advertising content. Ultimately, the goal of brand awareness is to drive loyalty. Loyal fans keep watching a TV franchise and buying tickets to a sporting match. At the end of your campaign, however, it’s unaided brand awareness—the concept of brand recall—that shows the long-term effects of a successful brand partnership. Once you’ve hooked your audience through authentic storytelling, you can deliver content that keeps them coming back for more.