The coronavirus pandemic has been a double whammy for the ad world: Health concerns and social distancing have shut down campaigns and shoots for months, and almost as damaging, the COVID recession wiped out budgets (and creative jobs), making those sprawling, multi-million-dollar shoots implausible for the foreseeable future.
But there is a powerful, new alternative. Increasingly, major advertisers are sourcing exceptional content from the internet to reimagine great creative. “Found content,” as the medium is becoming more widely known, can range from very high production value to viral videos to candid moments captured by someone on their iPhone. The internet is a potentially limitless creative library, but without the right curational tools to access it, finding the right content can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
At Catch&Release, we have witnessed the acceleration of this shift firsthand, as many brand partners have confronted the challenges of the new normal by adding more colors to their creativity palette.
“Not being able to go out and shoot doesn’t mean the death of creation—far from it. Found content gives you a whole new range to explore within. We should view it as having a bunch of new ways to help uncover a story and then recontextualizing that story with creative editing, imaginative music choices, arresting typography, etc.,” says Jordan Atlas, chief creative officer at Edelman.
Over the past year, many brands and their agencies—including Droga5, Doner, McCann, Ogilvy and VaynerMedia—have adopted our curation and licensing tools to leverage this new medium to create very successful campaigns. In response to this accelerated demand, we have developed more features, which in turn have led to even more interest from potential customers. In our survey of 100 advertising professionals, we found that 87% of respondents expect the amount of found content they use to increase over the next year.
Catch&Release’s proprietary technology not only reduces the inefficiency of the laborious, often opaque process of clearing and licensing content; it enables creative success: By centralizing these activities, and enabling transparency into the creative workflow from start to finish (curation to clearance to licensing), advertisers can optimize their budget and time, and maximize their creative output. At Catch&Release, we’ve built predictive AI into our platform to help discern whether original, never-before-licensed content can be licensed. This means creatives can curate through the lens of the specific needs of their brief, while having confidence they can actually use the content they find, the moment they find it.
Shifting attitudes toward UGC
The more marketers experiment with found content in advertising, the more production value they discover in the medium. UGC is still widely perceived as amateurish home videos of pets and failed pranks. That’s where found footage comes in: By expanding the standard definition of UGC, we can tap into an endless supply of content that offers creative range across multiple sources (social media) or formats (4K, square or vertical video). For example, many advertisers are looking to use more cinematic or filmic content with strong aesthetic compositions required for high-exposure commercial campaigns. We’ve also seen a strong gravitation toward pivotal life moments, or content that features diversity in ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds. Re-creating this kind of authenticity and real-world relevance is so much harder to do in a studio.
Authenticity remains a brand’s superpower. In our advertiser survey, the No. 1 reason cited for deploying found content was to increase brand trust (39%), followed by brand engagement (29%) and sales (17%). And, perhaps counterintuitively, brands have more creative control at their fingertips when curating and licensing content from the internet. At Catch&Release, we see curation is an art form: It can be as deliberate, intentional and laser focused (similar to editing) or as vague as the creative director wants.
“Found content is a tool we need to learn to leverage better. It’s no longer enough to just string together a couple pieces of UGC. There needs to be another element of thoughtfulness to take it to the next level,” says Matt McCain, chief creative officer and co-founder of Seattle-based creative shop Little Hands of Stone. When advertisers work with Catch&Release, they have the ability to define their own search parameters or terms, or curate based on the briefs they’ve already developed.
The flip side of the coronavirus shutdown is content demands are skyrocketing. The explosion of video sharing apps (e.g., TikTok, Triller), new gaming platforms (e.g., Twitch) and OTT and streaming services—especially for homebound users during the pandemic—all create a need for more diversified content across new channels and formats. The internet is the only dynamic, constantly refreshed source of content that can keep up with this accelerating demand—which makes technology solutions like Catch&Release all the more essential. “We’re going to see more agnostic approaches to creative,” notes Eric Levin, chief content officer at Spark Foundry. “You’ll have to look at the various technologies that enable the [agile] distribution [and creation] of content.”
Building the right playbook
The internet is nuanced, spontaneous and rapidly evolves at the speed of culture. So how do brands tap into this treasure trove of creative content? Brands still have to determine which types of content are aligned with their message and will appeal to their audience. To succeed with this new creative medium, they must approach curation and licensing with a plan:
• Search with intent. This is more than just using keywords to find what you’re looking for. Tone, sentiment and composition all come into play, as well as specific brand guidelines or brief requirements (region, language, specs) that can help organically home in on the exact right piece of footage.
• Keep the creative brief as your North Star. Sometimes, brands can effectively work backward to curate content that fits a general concept and then use those images to inform the brief.
• Consider licensing at the forefront of creative development. This is about minimizing heartbreak. It’s a huge waste of time for everyone involved, if you fall in love with a shot that can’t actually get used in the final edit. With Catch&Release, you can save images and videos from anywhere on the open web, with the Catch Extension. Each shot curated with the browser extension comes with a unique Licensability Assessment, which determines the likelihood a shot can be licensed.
In unusual times, the usual ways may not scale. Working remotely calls for nimble alternatives. The need to collaborate better, test more, ideate and ship faster will only persist. The same pressures that existed before the pandemic—impossible deadlines, meager budgets, increased deliverables—have crystallized. They will continue to exist once we “get back to normal.” Remember: As the internet grows, so do our creative options. We’ll likely see advertisers flexing a new muscle to maximize their creative output with speed, without sacrificing quality, by tapping into the largest content library in the world: the internet.