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Facebook's Anthology branded-video program may have gotten off to a slow start, but after some price adjustments, the program that pairs brands with premium publishers has begun to pick up traction among advertisers and is now doubling its roster of publishers.
When Facebook announced Anthology in April 2015, some brand and agency execs experienced sticker shock and had reservations about how the bill would be paid, according to media buyers.
Yes, Facebook was going to pair brands with top publishers like Vice, Vox Media and The Onion to produce videos for their brands. And it was possible, in one case, for a publisher to guarantee marketers that those videos would be shown as ads to 70% of the total potential addressable audience a brand had targeted eight times over the course of 12 weeks. But, in that example, the cost was for a minimum spending commitment of $2 million, including production costs.
On face value that deal was more expensive than the amount of inventory an advertiser could otherwise get from Facebook for $2 million, but there were a few considerations that ultimately balanced things out, according to media buyers. Those sweeteners primarily centered around Facebook's in-house agency, Creative Shop, and its ability to mine the social network for insights about brands' audiences and their ads' performance.
"Facebook is a great platform for video, and applying their audience insights and data to optimize creative is a great idea," said David Lang, chief content officer at Mindshare North America and president of Mindshare Content & Entertainment.
In addition to the video content and inventory on Facebook and Instagram, brands buying Anthology deals also get anonymized audience insights from Facebook, such as the interests of their target consumers according to their Facebook profiles, the types of things they talk about on Facebook and how they compare by location. The data can be used to determine what videos to produce, whether to make multiple videos aimed at subsets of the audience, and how to target the videos. Facebook also throws in some measurement muscle, such as being able to track how a campaign impacts product sales.
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"The important element in any deal like this is that it's crucial that what a brand creates is based on, and can leverage, the right data and insights and then optimize the creative," Mr. Lang said.
But media buyers did take issue with the idea that they had to pay two bills to purchase an Anthology campaign. They would pay publishers for producing the videos, and then pay Facebook for running the videos as ads.
"The notion of tacking together the cost of paying one partner a production fee and another an ad fee feels like an iterative relationship," said Maikel O'Hanlon, VP of social media strategy at Horizon Media. "If you do a branded series on The Onion or Vox, it's one cost."
That might be seem like a minor accounting annoyance, but it complicates agencies' abilities to tie campaign performance to the money their clients spent on the campaign. Some brands and agencies may be fine with the extra math, but not all.
"The answer depends on the client and whether or not they are looking for a solution that is focused around 'working dollars,'" Mr. Lang said, referring to the money dedicated to the actual ad buy. "If a client is looking for that, then doing an Anthology deal may be more difficult. But for other clients, who are fine paying separately for creative and production through a third party, then it wouldn't be an issue."
There's also the possibility that money won't only need to be spent on production costs and the ad buy, but also on paying brands' creative agencies to be involved to make sure that the content aligns with the brand's goals or image. "Having a Facebook-preferred storytelling partner create content doesn't relieve the creative agency of shepherding [the content production process]," Mr. O'Hanlon said. "It feels like it introduces a new cost element that wasn't there previously."
Since introducing Anthology, Facebook has changed up the economics. It has removed production costs from the minimum spending requirement, which has lowered the initial sticker price to around $1 million, as Digiday reported in January. And instead of receiving a tab from Facebook and another from the publisher, advertisers now have the option of paying a single bill with the publisher. The only requirement in that case is that the publisher buy the ad space from Facebook on the advertiser's behalf and report to the advertiser how that money was spent with full transparency.
Those changes, along with the increasing allure of digital video and branded content to advertisers, appears to have helped Anthology gain traction after a slow start. Nearly a dozen Anthology campaigns have run to date, including five in the second half of 2015. And by the end of this month Facebook will have booked more Anthology campaigns for 2016 than ran in all of 2015, according to a Facebook spokesman.
That number should ramp up quickly as Facebook expands the Anthology program ahead of this year's Digital Content NewFronts, adding Brit & Co, Complex Media, Conde Nast, Discovery Communications, NowThis, PopSugar and Refinery29.
"The selection of these new partners gets to the crux of the program: trusted editorial voices and proven storytellers whose content makes News Feed a better place for people & brands," said Keenan Pridmore, head of Facebook's Creative Shop Studio, in an emailed statement. "We also want the program to mirror our vast and diverse audience on Facebook and Instagram and these new partners understand and create content for the people advertisers want to reach."
Those publishers are being added to the initial crop of seven, all of which remain in the program and almost all of which have produced at least one Anthology campaign. The only holdout is digital video network Tastemade. "We continue to be excited about the Facebook Anthology program, but don't have anything ready to announce today," said Melissa Drucker, Tastemade's head of sales and brand partnerships, in a statement.
While Anthology campaigns can be had in standalone deals, all of the new Anthology publishers plan to bundle it as part of broader branded-video deals, if not larger packages that could also include more traditional ad buys and keep the publisher in control of the advertiser relationship.
"What Facebook actually prefers is we are front-and-center with the client and bring in Facebook once we've sold through the concept," said Chris George, senior VP-product marketing and sales strategy at PopSugar.
The Onion had adopted that strategy last year when it pitched the personal computer consortium of Dell, HP, Intel, Lenovo and Microsoft on an original video series to promote the capabilities of non-Apple computers. "This was an assignment that came to [The Onion's branded content arm] Onion Labs, and we brought the Facebook partnership in as an added value," said Julie Scott, VP-accounts at The Onion. In addition to the ads on Facebook, the computer brands also bought ads on The Onion's site to promote the campaign. As with the production costs, that additional revenue did not need to be split with Facebook.
But Facebook's sales team can also initiate Anthology deals, connecting publishers with potential new clients. "It's great to offer our editorial tone and expertise to their sales force, so when they're talking to the Anheuser-Busches of the world, they can say, 'Oh, hey, you have a need around music this summer or culture this fall, Complex could be a good fit for that,'" said Complex Media Chief Revenue Officer Moksha Fitzgibbons.
And being able to lean on Facebook's data and data chops can help publishers build momentum for their own branded video businesses, particularly among advertisers who may be concerned about whether they're getting their money's worth. "The better you get at this, the more predictable it becomes," said Refinery29 cofounder and co-CEO Justin Stefano. "This program is one of the less risky ways to do branded videos because there's so much reporting and insights, more so than if you're distributing video outside Facebook."
Brit & Co
Brit & Co crafts content about crafts: how-to videos and do-it-yourself tutorials for 18-to-34-year-old women who like to "make, build, design and create," said Emily Smith, president and general manager of media at Brit & Co. The company's dedicated Facebook team -- it includes editors, writers, a marketer, a designer and a video producer -- specialize in making video "that has more urgency and more to do with the new and what's going on today than more evergreen topics that people might look for on search," she said. That team turns around how-to videos within a week and also makes "pop quiz" videos that explain a current fad like the latest superfood, spirulina. And when working with brands that plan well ahead, Brit & Co signs deals for something like a branded how-to series three months in advance, waits until the videos are ready to go live to pick a topic based on what's trending, and puts them together in that tight but more topical window, Ms. Smith said.
Complex considers itself the cool kid that tells the other cool kids what's cool. "We're very focused on influencer culture and what we refer to as convergence culture, which is a mashup of hip hop and rock, action sports and traditional sports, high-end fashion [and] streetwear fashion, fine art and graffiti art," said Moksha Fitzgibbons, chief revenue officer. Founded as a print magazine, Complex has ramped up its video efforts in the past couple years. Its programs include Complex News, which pumps out 22 episodes a day, seven days a week. News videos are where Complex has gotten the most traction among brands, between selling sponsored segments and branded documentary-style series that profile an artist or athlete.
Conde Nast is looking to make videos for its own audiences as well as for brands that capitalize on the breakneck pace of Facebook's news feed. In the past year the company has shifted its strategy from peering at how its past content performed to predicting what content will do well in the future. "Generally our brands speak to the zeitgeist," said Conde Nast Chief Digital Officer Fred Santarpia. "Whether it's video on Facebook or longform content for our owned-and-operated sites, we are playing in the here and now." That strategy also applies to 23 Stories, the branded-content arm that Conde Nast opened last year, which will now be able to incorporate Facebook's data into its process.
If you've seen Discovery's shows on TV -- from Discovery Channel to TLC to Animal Planet to Science -- you have a good idea of what to expect from Discovery on Facebook. The company uses both its TV talent and digital video stars such as Philip DeFranco in its online video. "When users see that it's something Discovery-related and with a brand, there's a good halo effect all around it. There's an instant trust with that content and brand partner," said Harold Morgenstern, senior VP-digital ad sales at Discovery Communications.
NowThis aims to be the news network of choice for people across social feeds on mobile. In addition to Facebook, the three-year-old company produces videos for YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Tumblr. NowThis President Athan Stephanopoulos said the company's Facebook videos average half a million views a pop. For Facebook specifically, NowThis tries to make visually appealing videos that are "audio agnostic," he added, referring to clips that deliver a message even if a consumer has the sound off. That's important because Facebook videos play automatically in people's feeds, whether or not users have their sound on. The company's branded-content arm, NowThis Studios, applies that same environment-aware approach to the videos it makes for brands. "We look at it through the lens of saying, can we know where it's going to live first and work backwards," Mr. Stephanopoulos said.
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PopSugar caters to 18-to-49-year-old women and specializes in "girlfriend to girlfriend advice," said Chris George, senior VP-product marketing and sales strategy. The company focused on celebrity when it began 10 years ago, but saw its audience migrate toward "healthy living" content and followed suit. PopSugar's Facebook video strategy drills into specific interest categories such as food, fitness and entertainment so it can program for those "micro-communities," Mr. George said. While PopSugar creates evergreen videos for brands over the span of a couple months, it also uses an internal tool called Trendrank that scours the web for what's trending in order to make topical video for brands within just a couple of days.
Refinery29 has been producing content for millennial women since 2005, but recently found that its Facebook audience has an appetite for a wider variety of content, from an eight-minute video about Instagram stars that's notched more than 20 million views to a series called "The Five Phases" that breaks down specific moments in a woman's day (like seeing your ex-boyfriend walking down the street). "We've been able to make longer form content work on Facebook as well as shorter form content as well as comedy as well as food as well as news," said Refinery29 cofounder and co-CEO Justin Stefano. To make brands' content work on Facebook, he sees the potential to take the formats from its editorial series -- like the use of text overlays and motion graphics to make the videos more viewable in a soundless environment -- and apply them to the videos Refinery29 will produce with brands on Facebook.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Facebook's Anthology program guaranteed a certain reach and frequency over a certain period of time. Participating publishers can negotiate such terms as part of individual deals with marketers, but Anthology doesn't necessarily promise to reach certain audiences a set number of times over a single, specific period.