4 Key Takeaways About the Future of Content From the Brand Storytelling Conference

Gen Z insights, views vs. attention, and the boomerang effect

Nestled atop one of the many snow-capped mountains north of Salt Lake City, the Stein Eriksen Lodge played host Thursday to a gathering of branded content experts from agencies, brands and media outfits. They're attending and sharing their knowledge at the second Brand Storytelling conference, which is taking place in and around Park City, Utah, at the same time the Sundance Film Festival is starting up.

A few key learnings jumped out from among the many presentations that took place across three small stages dotting the hall.

Don't make the brand the story

Alan Beard, CMO of youth media company Fullscreen Media, reminded the audience that though it might be tempting to put a brand in the middle of a story, it rarely works. Telling good stories about a brand is less valuable than having a brand support a good story. "Like a boomerang, if you throw the story away from you, it will come back," said Beard. In other words, if you make it about your brand, there's less likelihood it will resonate. Beard used as an example a series Fullscreen made following U.S. women's soccer goalie Hope Solo to the Summer Olympics—including her termination from the team after she criticized the Swedish team the U.S. lost to.

Gen Z Is a hot, fascinating mess that may just save the world

Arguably the most interesting presentation of the day wasn't about branded content—it was research about Gen Z generated by Astronauts Wanted, a Gen Z-targeted content startup helmed by ex-MTV chief Judy McGrath and backed by Sony Music Entertainment. Christine Murphy, svp and head of branded entertainment, and Jonny Blitstein, vp of business development, branded entertainment, together delivered a snapshot of Gen Z—replete with video interviews of several teenagers. Among the findings: They're actually "anti teens," little grownups who are skipping past adolescence due in part to their access to so much more information in the internet age. They feel subjected to three types of pressure: societal, existential, and financial—largely the result of growing up in an era of fiscal uncertainty, environmental issues and the constant threat of terrorism and violence. One disconnect among the teen set: 87 percent of the kids Astronauts Wanted surveyed said they would like to go back to a predigital era. And yet, they all agreed they can't live without their phones.

Producing for the Snapchat age

Mobile startup WeBuyGold (part of Naritiv), as embodied by executive producer Sara DeCou and senior producer Sydney Hass, is out to conquer the Snapchat universe by making all of its content  (shooting, editing and producing) on mobile devices. Inspired by the launch of MTV, which DeCou and Hass pointed out was completely original and didn't emulate existing television channels at the time, WeBuyGold is creating three lines of short-form programming: serialized content, documentary-style content and celebrity features. Each has a twist. For example, the docu-style content strives to pique viewers' interests about a given topic but doesn't attempt to be exhaustive. DeCou and Hass cited gigantic stats as evidence of their being in the future sweet spot of content: 10 billion videos are viewed daily on Snapchat. 

Human attention is the world's most valuable resource

Such staggering numbers don't really impress Joe Marchese, president of advanced ad product for Fox Networks Group, whose central thesis was that just because people are watching so many videos doesn't mean they're paying attention or spending time. Marchese was definitely the contrarian of the day, his thesis being that TV advertising still delivers a powerful punch. "People have never liked ad interruptions, but they like the deal" that advertising pays for the programming they want to see, said Marchese. He then pointed out that while Facebook and Google each generates tens of billions of views compared with Fox Networks' collective 298 million views across its channels, viewers spent nearly 30 minutes at a time with Fox compared with four minutes with YouTube and 1.5 minutes with Facebook video.

The second day of Brand Storytelling resumes today.