Wren’s viral video of kissing strangers is further proof of how emotion drives social sharing. Unfortunately, the powerful emotional connection to the content felt by consumers may not have transferred to consumer connection to the brand. The video offers an interesting case study for brands — and media outlets — to further explore branded content approaches and strategies.
It is common practice for fashion advertisers to make loose, yet moving emotional associations between content and image; Wren collaborated with a popular YouTube video producer and the result was a slick, emotionally engaging and edgy video with a simple message. But the brand itself was relegated to near obscurity as most consumers did not realize the video was a clothing advertisement for the company’s 2014 fall line.
Let’s play devil’s advocate and put aside the obvious for the moment — Wren’s viral good fortune — and consider instead what the company and media outlets might have done better.
The video, titled “First Kiss,” is a missed opportunity to include the brand’s name (First Kiss, by Wren), especially for a brand that is not well-known. Wren’s own social channels are sparse when it comes to followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook, 3,176 and 5,124, respectively.
The YouTube video has been viewed over 48.5 million times (248,951 likes), at the time of this writing. The 50,948 subscribers to the video’s director pale in comparison to its views — and the highly popular Tatia Pilieva had many YouTube subscribers before she produced “First Kiss.” Wren got 490 retweets.
“Wren presents” in the video’s opening is so small and fades in and out so quickly as to go unnoticed. Surely many opportunities for increased brand recognition exist that would not undermine or overshadow the content — even something as simple as including the Wren logo on a piece of clothing, a voice over to coincide with the textual introduction or making the introductory text larger and leaving it on screen for a few seconds longer. The black and white presentation is artsy and attractive, but it takes away from the clothing line.
When “First Kiss” exploded on Facebook, many publications picked up on its wide appeal, reposting both to their social channels and websites. But the video was largely presented without any mention of the clothing line. The Daily Dot titled its post, “What happens when 20 strangers make out for a YouTube experiment.” Huffington Post said, “What Happens When 20 Strangers Are Paired Off And Asked To Kiss? Magic.” Yahoo News writes, “10 Pairs of Strangers Share ‘First Kiss’ as World Watches,” which has since been updated. Some mentioned Pilieva, but few if any mentioned Wren.
Should news outlets hold themselves to the same self-regulatory, ethical standards of transparency even when aggregating branded content that is not their own? Just as brands borrow from a publication’s credibility, so do publications grab the the baton from the hands of the Internet’s fastest runners in the race for clicks, considering only how they can present content in an original way that catapults them over the finish line first — with little regard to the content’s original creators.
Wren should accept the publicity with gratitude — good or bad, because publicity is always publicity. Right? Not necessarily. Unless it’s done right, virality does not necessarily correlate with a campaign’s overall success. To date, attempts to measure online advertising campaigns have not been consistent or transparent enough to provide reliable standard metrics. As Nielsen points out, “understanding how your brand is doing online is about more than clicks and page views. It’s about the audience.”
Ads that evoke stronger emotions generate greater involvement, but they do little good if your audience remembers your content and forgets your brand. Consumer memorability studies consistently find that while consumers remember highly engaging content, they cannot often recall the brand that created it. “I loved that commercial! Who was it for?”
Wren has indeed increased its name recognition, but that resulted less from the initial social shares and more from the negative media attention unmasking the video’s commercial underpinnings. Soon after the video went viral, several media outlets self-righteously pointed out that consumers were duped into believing the actors, models and musicians in the video were ordinary people when in fact they were on-camera professionals role playing in Wren clothing.
There are also important differences between buzz and advocacy. From Millward Brown’s The Business of Brands: “Buzz reflects interest in something new, cool, different or provocative, and can form a social currency, encouraging “pass-along” from one person to another. While buzz about a brand conveys a sense of excitement and energy, it can also be empty noise with little or no relevance to the brand and its objectives.”
Measuring results from branded content is even more difficult when brands are incorporated into content so seamlessly as to make them nearly invisible. Effective brand advertising is a hugely beneficial long-term investment and more valuable than a campaign’s short-term success. But if a positive brand connection was made from the Wren video, it appears that most consumers were far less interested and engaged with the brand than with the content.
Speaking at Social Media in New York, Unruly’s co-founder and COO Sarah Wood said: “If you’re making video content, you don’t want to hide the brand, you want the brand to be integral to the plot. Think of [the] brand as the protagonist of the story.” Did the retail company and its “First Kiss” producer fall short of winning Wren an award for Best-Supporting Brand? Has Wren taken home, instead, first prize for Village Idiot? Does it matter?
“If the brand were the ‘protagonist’ of this story we likely wouldn’t be talking about this five days later or at all,” said Melissa Coker, creative director and brand consultant at Wren. However, there are examples of successful branded videos that do make the brand the protagonist. During Social Media Week, Wood cited Coke Zero’s Skyfall campaign as one of them.
Native advertising is nevertheless a balancing act between subtle branding (lest consumers tune it out) and rendering a brand unrecognizable — especially considering the odds against its going viral. But “First Kiss” did. And according to Coker, online sales increased by 14,000 percent compared to the same time period last year, which she attributes directly to the video.
So did Wren find the winning formula? Says Coker: “If you’re making creative that is boring or bad then you have to be obvious and you have no choice but to hit people over the head with your message. However, if you are making something great, you can be subtle, as people will find your message because they are engaged and actually want to. If you want to speak to consumers who are savvy, such as millennials, subtle and engaging is the way to go.”