Recently, we’ve seen a troubling trend in our space: pumping out branded content as quickly as possible is being prioritized over quality, thoughtful brand integration, and deep strategic thinking. This approach is being advanced by a breed of influencer platforms that bring a minimum viable product to the market and act as intermediaries between brands and creators, flooding the space with low-quality brand integrations.
This trend is not exclusive to our space. The push toward scaled distribution in the creator world mirrors what has been happening in media buying for years: a shift in thinking that promoted reaching the maximum number of eyeballs possible, at any cost to the quality of the content and how the brand message was delivered.
But media buyers are increasingly recognizing that scale shouldn’t come at the expense of quality. As Laura Correnti of Giant Spoon, an award-winning agency on the vanguard of bringing together creative and media, shared with Adweek, “The obsession with scale became a race to the bottom that led to the commodification of the industry relative to media…Our obsession with data as an industry in some parts has dismantled creativity.”
In the same way that best-in-class media strategists like Laura are prioritizing higher-quality content delivered with intelligent context, those lessons need to be applied in the creator space. In branded content, and advertising writ large, it is the combination of high-quality creative and strategic distribution that drives results–not one at the expense of the other.
The scaled, plug-and-play approach to branded partnerships is missing the key ingredients of higher-touch creator collaborations that can deepen an audience’s connection and passion for a brand more than traditional advertising channels can.
Brendan Gahan, chief social officer for Mekanism and one of the leading voices in the space, echoes the sentiment, telling me, “The best way to win in influencer marketing is for a brand to bring its resources to the table and invest in what creators do best. It is not about a creator going off and doing whatever they want, but developing a mutually beneficial partnership, which requires a real investment of time and trust.”
Savvy creators are leading this push toward more meaningful relationships with brands. David Dobrik (who is a longtime content partner of ticket retailer SeatGeek) recently explained, “Everyone hates watching branded videos, but now when they see I have a brand in my video, they go, ‘Oh, something cool’s gonna happen…’
In other words, as RGA’s Jack Appleby put it on Twitter, “People don’t hate branded content. They hate bad branded content.”
The best examples of successful collaborations between brands and creators–partnerships that move the needle for a brand and have a real impact on culture–are the byproduct of a commitment by brands to invest in quality content, authentic integrations, and long-term strategic partnerships.
Clorox is a brand that is doing it the right way. Not only has our team at Portal A produced a string of hit campaigns for their brands featuring big-swing creative ideas and talented creators like King Bach, Rudy Mancusco, Hannah Hart, and Grace Helbig, but Clorox also recently announced an Influencer Advisory Council to help the brand better understand the type of content that resonates in the space.
Nick Montgomery, an associate director of marketing at Clorox, recently said in an interview with Adweek that Glad’s work with Helbig “was so helpful in growing the Press’n Seal brand…being a real partner in content creation is a game-changer.” And David Kargas, a director of marketing at Clorox, also noted: “We’ve found that the key to being successful in the creator space is investing in the collaboration between brand, creator, and our creative partners, and rallying around a big creative idea, not just a simple transaction. That’s how you tell a story about your brand that can really break through.”
It took about a decade for the media ecosystem to begin recognizing that scale should not come at the expense of creativity. It’s time for our industry to take the same step forward. In an era where consumers scroll past interruptive, low-quality ads instinctively, partnering with creators can be one of the most powerful channels for any brand. But only if an investment in quality–of the partnership, of how the content is produced and distributed, and of how the brand is integrated–is prioritized.
At Portal A, we’ll continue advocating for our brand partners to invest in both quality and scale. To prioritize both creativity and reach. We know, in the long run, this is the formula that will deliver the most value.
Zach Blume is a cofounder and managing partner at Portal A, an award-winning content agency that works with the most influential talent and brands in the world.