As a result, the savviest have begun exploring new opportunities like native advertising and working with influencers as a way to get their messages across to a hard-to-reach audience.
Traditionally, Facebook kept these forms of promotion restricted, requiring these ad campaigns to be run through them first.
All that changed in April when they announced a new branded content (or ‘Sponsored Mentions’) feature that would allow verified Pages to run their own campaigns with influencers in a streamlined, DIY way.
While it opens up a host of new potential for advertisers, what’s most interesting is that there’s nothing new about this approach at all. Here’s why.
The Origins of Branded Content
The Michelin Star is the pinnacle of notoriety for a chef and restaurant. It’s verified recognition, from leading authorities who’ve been doing it for over a hundred years, that your food is good. Michelin ratings ignore service. And they ignore decor. Unlike other popular restaurant reviewing services, their focus is exclusively on the food.
Michelin relies heavily on a trained, anonymous staff who regularly grades restaurants on a three-star scale:
- One star: A good place to stop on your journey, indicating a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard.
- Two stars: A restaurant worth a detour, indicating excellent cuisine and skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality
- Three stars: A restaurant worth a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients.
That means even the ‘lowest’ one-star award is still a MASSIVE accomplishment for most.
Gordon Ramsay, the same guy you can find most weeknights screaming at unsuspecting chefs-in-training, reportedly “cried” when he lost his two (!) stars due to inconsistency at his New York restaurant. He likened it to “losing a girlfriend.”
Part of the reason they’re so prized, is that they’re so rare.
There are almost 500 restaurants in Chicago in the 2014 Michelin Guide according to Food Travel. How many have Michelin Stars? Again the tally from Food Travel: “Only one restaurant received three stars; four restaurants received two stars, and 20 restaurants received one star.”
The Michelin Star derives from the Michelin Guides in France, which have been published on an annual basis for about a hundred and twenty years.
The initial idea was hatched by two brothers, Edouard and Andre Michelin, in 1895 shortly after developing the “first air-filled tire” that we enjoy today. Not only was the quality better, but they could also be changed quickly, unlike previous tire models that were glued to the rim of the wheel. (Could you imagine how long waiting for AAA would take in that case?!)
The problem? There were only about 350 cars in France in 1895. And as most savvy readers understand, no market = no business.
So the entire goal of the original Michelin Guide was to get people out-and-about the country, it becomes evident when you go back and re-read how star ratings are worded (One star: stop on your journey; Two stars: a restaurant worth a detour; Three stars: a restaurant worth a special journey).
According to Pricenomics:
First published in 1900, the guide’s 399 pages contained all the information drivers needed to “go touring” through French towns and cities. Only restaurants attached to hotels were included, and they were listed rather than carefully rated. Information about installing and caring for Michelin tires occupied the first 33 pages, and ads for car part manufacturers occupied another 50 pages. Maps and basic information about dozens of towns made up the bulk of the guide.
Although there were early content marketing efforts from John Deere with The Furrow around the same time, the Michelin Guides became a world unto themselves and continue to play a significant part in the restaurant rating landscape.
How Facebook’s New Branded Content Works
A few months ago Facebook changed their previously held stance toward ‘branded content’ by unveiling a new option to allow influencers and publishers to work closer with marketers.
But let’s not bury the lead too much…
Don’t have a verified Page? With the little blue badge? “You cannot post branded content” (at least with this new feature). That probably rules out a decent amount of the people reading this.
Those with unverified pages can still do ‘branded content things’ however, like post affiliate links – you just have to abide by the proper FTC disclosures (which like, no one does). And then there’s also the Facebook Terms of Service you need to be mindful of. (This was verified by Kristi Hines.
Facebook defines branded content as any “text, photo, video, Instant Article, link, 360 or live video featuring a third-party product, brand or sponsor”.
The benefits of this ‘influencer marketing’ technique are obvious:
- The Marketer gets increased brand awareness, recognition and increased credibility or trust by adoring fans. (You know, influence, psychology, social proof, yadda yadda yadda.)
- The Influencer gets, well, money. (Also the added benefit of providing better/more unique/interesting content which they wouldn’t be able to afford/product/create without access to a larger budget and resources.)
Simple as that.
Facebook made this new branded content option dead simple to execute too, featuring a little handshake icon that allows you to quickly tag the influencer.
The ‘Sponsored Mention’ shows up now at the top of a content update, mentioning both parties clearly.
When an Influencer tags a Marketer, they’ll get direct access to basic post insights like engagement, reach, total spend and even CPM on each tagged post.
In theory, you could try to sell things directly using this method – providing a clear-cut ROI to throw down on your boss or client’s desk.
However, the logistics of that might be pretty tough to pull off, as Facebook doesn’t convert like AdWords.
So you can also look at the direct metrics received, assessing the cost for this increased awareness and engagement compared to the cost it would have taken to generate the same using other methods or channels (like banner ads, etc.)
Because at the end of the day, most marketers are still obsessing over the best ways to deal with the crushing weight of competition, channel variety, and declining traditional methods.
Why Branded Content?
When Facebook made their breaking announcement, they opened with recounting how soap operas were created and developed by brands in the 1930s.
Starting with radio in the 30’s where (who else but) Procter & Gamble developed serial dramas featuring detergents. (Get it? ‘Soap Opera’?) Fast-forward to the golden age of advertising in the forties and fifties, when television began invading households throughout the country.
The short-lived Frank Sinatra Show in the 1950’s (he wasn’t very popular during this time – read this for the backstory – also, WTF with the mustache, Frank?!) was exclusively sponsored by Bulova Watches.
Fast forward to around the seven-minute mark for the ‘commercial’:
In these early days, networks didn’t produce shows and foot the bill quite like they do today. Brands did. Marketers and advertisers did.
For example, Procter & Gamble wasn’t just a ‘sponsor’ according to this excellent Contently piece by Yael Grauer. They also produced the infamous As the World Turns which ran for fifty-four (54 !) years.
That’s not a surprise to Copyblogger founder and CEO Brian Clark, who told Yael & Contently:
Procter & Gamble invented the soap opera in the 1930s with radio because they couldn’t figure out a way to reach housewives. Radio was new, and they created stories to appeal to that demographic. And then television showed up and they transferred it to television, and by the 1970s, soap operas are the most profitable form of television.
I worry sometimes about the lack of historical perspective.
I think the most interesting thing about the time we’re in right now is that when we look back — say one hundred years from now — at the 20th century, we’re going to say, ‘Wow, that was a weird aberration, where for a little bit there was mass media and it ruled everything, but it wasn’t there before.’
In short, everyone’s doing it.
Couple that volume problem with the ever-escalating number of available channels and we’ve got a problem…
How the hell do you stand out?
How do you get attention to your messaging when competing across multiple platforms with virtually everybody at the same time?
One way is with influencers. While the everyday influencer marketing tactics you read about online are mostly a bunch of crap, branded content is another thing entirely.
It’s piggybacking on the celebrity; the infinite reach of individuals or groups that also hold sway over those who follow.
Facebook’s move to not only allow but support branded content is evidence of something larger at play. It’s a recognition of the times, the challenges, and the ingenuity it’s gonna take to get your audience to see your stuff.
And what’s funny (or ironic), is that the strategies being used here aren’t a trend. But a rebirth.
What’s old is new again.