Studio 1847 won best interactive content at last year’s Pearl Awards for its creation and promotion of branded content for FX’s original crime drama epic “Snowfall”, which was set in 1983 and explored the birth of the crack cocaine epidemic and its far-reaching impact on American culture. Studio 1847’s VP of Branded Content Robin Gruen talked to Content Magazine about the interactive content campaign it ran on the LA Times, how they used content to spark a conversation and why variety was the key to its success.
Content: Congratulations on winning best interactive content at last year’s Pearl Awards. Talk me through the interactive elements of your content.
Robin Gruen: We created an interactive content destination on latimes.com featuring tronc branded content studio produced content along with historical content from the LA Times editorial archives. This was a high-visibility promotional campaign that included multimedia elements consisting of a continuously scrolling single-destination page easily accessible across all devices.
Visitors were directed to the content via a combination of native advertising on latimes.com, social media promotion on the LA Times Facebook page, and a targeted publisher cost-per-click campaign. In addition, a homepage takeover with a video wall and a fixed custom homepage promotional barker ran on select days during the campaign to maximize impact.
What were your engagement stats?
Content ran during a nine-day period leading up to the Snowfall series premiere and it was among the most successful our audience team have posted to date. Within nine days users spent 369 days and five hours engaged with hub content. In addition, the campaign added more than 330 likes to the main LA Times Facebook page. The average time spent with the content was 2:07 minutes, which we were delighted with.
What was the aim of the campaign?
We wanted to generate a quick buzz and spark conversation around the launch of this unique series. FX wanted us to use old headlines from around that time the crack epidemic swept over California that featured in the LA Times. So, we came up with ways to make those old pieces of content relevant to today’s audience, and we used them to take readers on a journey, to uncover the secrets of the story of how the crack epidemic spread. Our goal was to intrigue readers and give them teasers to the types of interesting things they would learn from the show.
How important was it for you to use facts to promote the fiction?
It was huge because we are owned by a publisher, and because we believe in creating true and honest content. As a former newsroom reporter, I know how important it is to tell factual stories. Our branded content goes through the same rigorous process that our editorial content does. We tackle our stories in the way journalists would do. We believe this lends credibility to the content we create.
The interactive scrolling content included many storytelling techniques. Why did you feel the need to have the differing formats?
Sadly, people don’t read as much as they used to. They tend to like things that they can click on, or scroll through, and they are looking for more of an experience. We wanted people to scroll down and have a variety of content to choose from, where they could learn new things and engage with the piece that they most connected with. We were less concerned about every person reading each piece of content. It was more about each person [who came to the page] finding elements that were compelling to them.
Why did you choose to create a scrolling piece of content?
That’s the way people are now digesting and consuming content. That’s the way destination content works. Scrolling is a very natural thing. Consumers are used to doing that, even our children are used to scrolling. Also, scrolling is easier than clicking. We were never concerned that the readers might not get to the end of the scroll. In fact, the metrics showed us that the content scroll depth was 95%, which we were thrilled about, it was great metrics wise.
How do you feel about the stats that showed people spent more than two minutes with the content?
I love it. I can’t take all the credit because they were interested in the show and wanted to learn more. People say all the time, if it’s paid, then no one is going to read it. This proves otherwise. People will read it if they are interested in it, if it speaks to them, if they feel a connection be it intrigue or emotion, joy, happiness, sadness to the content. They don’t care if it’s paid for, they care if it’s good.
What advice would you give to other content creators seeking to emulate your approach?
Have mixed elements. Maybe include a timeline, a map, some written content and a video, and use color. The use of creative is very important to keep people engaged, it’s something fun to look at. Readers get bored of looking at black and white, it’s too official. The beauty of the digital landscape is to be able to play around with color much more than you can do on paper. Keep video content to with 75-95 seconds, or if it’s going on social, restrict it to 60 seconds. The secret to success is to do something interactive, have lots of different elements so you can capture a wide audience.