Dancing With the Content Stars: Marketers’ Changing Role at the NewFronts


As the NewFronts approach, it’s time to think about how your brand can succeed in the new media buying landscape.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already checked out the schedule for this year’s NewFronts. You’ve figured out which events you’ll attend. You’re thinking about how 2015 will compare to previous years. You’ve picked your dress and the perfect corsage. You’re ready for digital video’s prom night, and more specifically, you’re thinking about what the NewFronts will have in store for your brand.

In the four years since the Digital Content NewFronts burst onto the scene, we’ve gone from six founding partners to 33 presenters, spanning digital and traditional media. Everyone comes with star-studded dance-cards, brand partnerships, and innovative show concepts, all aiming to woo prospective advertisers to join their content tango.

There’s definitely something different in the air around the NewFronts this year. Revealing original slates is table stakes. The big ask for brands will be how active a role they can play in creating custom content and integrating into original content. Brand association and adjacency is the icing, not the cake. Brands are smarter on their target consumers than ever before and have earned their rightful seat at the table to shape the next generation of consumer behavior.

So how do brands really own the dance floor going into the NewFronts and for the balance of the year?

1. Buy Storytelling Instead of 30-Second Pre-Roll

If you’re going into NewFronts with the notion of simply buying time – a 30-second slot of pre-roll – then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. You should be there to invest in original storytelling that is created to impact and engage with an increasingly dynamic consumer base. You should get the full package – a massive and diverse set of content, across all screens, at massive scale. Coming to the big dance with an arbitrary number of pre-roll spots to fill is so 2014. 2015 is the year of content that gets better with your brand’s involvement.

Research has long proven that consumers are interested in compelling, relevant, and device-appropriate content, whether it comes from a publisher, brand, or a mixture of the two, is effectively irrelevant. Consumers’ inclination to consume and, more importantly, share content actually increases with the presence of a known brand/advertiser. This year, brands have the unique opportunity to forge new relationships with their consumers and leave them with an emotional connection and a different brand experience than they might be expecting – which, when done right, is priceless.

Storytelling remains the most powerful tool in our communication arsenal and it is evolving, and not just for content creators, but for brand advertisers as well. It’s time to say goodbye to the typical buyer/seller relationship and hello to a deeper and more meaningful relationship bound by storytelling and content co-creation.

2. Forget Your Role as a Brand – Think Like a Content Creator and a Consumer

From The Huffington Post’s Good News partnership with State Farm to the ephemeral Snapchat, the last several years have revolutionized storytelling and how brands can reach audiences. The amount and variety of content competing for viewers’ attention is overwhelming. And on top of all that, most viewers today arecontent creators in their own right, with such easy access to everything from iMovie to Instagram or Vine, and now Periscope. As marketers, we have a brand-new set of digital and social tools at our disposal, and we need to lean in the way our consumers do.

This year at NewFronts, push your content creation partners to help you discover and test out ahead of mainstream adoption. It can be impractical to do as a standalone – nearly impossible to keep up with consumers. How should we be telling stories based on the dynamic and changing consumer habits? What channels should we be using to tell those stories? How can we think like a consumer because, well, we are all consumers. What do you watch? How do you watch it? What content is compelling to you and why and what role can brands play in that?

3. Take Risks – Don’t Be Afraid to Break Out Some New Moves

Integrate yourself fully into the content conga line. It’s not always about the perfect, buttoned-up piece of marketing copy; it’s about making your brand a character, or in some cases, an active participant in the content. Custom content is more interpretive dance than ballet. Playing it safe won’t help you get down on the dance floor, and being overly cautious of new moves and trends will not only hold you back, but also will make you noticeably less connected to the experimentation consumers of all generations are driving for themselves.

Take the Olive Garden’s integration in a recent episode of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as an example. The restaurant plays a role in the larger plot of the story and communicates its brand promise without viewers seeing it as an outright and obnoxious play for their attention.

4. Remember to Learn

While it is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the sizzles and splash of the NewFront stages, there will hopefully be a lot of learning and sharing from the presenting companies and executives.

As marketers, we have always risen to the challenges presented by an industry in constant flux. We’ve gone from flashy print ads to actual Flash ads. We integrated ourselves so well into a genre that it bears the name of a product: “soap operas.” When DVRs threatened to make the 30-second spot obsolete, we invented pre-roll and programmatic, and made native advertising smoother than butter.

The industry continues to change and evolve, but the consumer technology boom has accelerated the rate of innovation and in many cases outpaced our [advertising’s] response. The challenge is to take more creative risk; to be an innovator; to be a leader. Consumers are only going to become more connected, consuming content in new ways that we can’t possibly predict right now. We should take this opportunity to shape consumer behavior, and redefine what it means to tell a brand story.