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digital strategist, influencer, house of cards


With the release of House of Cards Season 4, Veritas’ Digital Strategist Kevin Twomey looks at how we can take inspiration from the award winning show in our approach to developing brand stories.

Creating unique, entertaining, engaging content is becoming increasingly difficult. Brands are playing in an increasingly cluttered space and consumer expectation is so much higher than it was before. Not only are consumers looking for top quality content, but they’re also taking steps to block out substandard content. Reports suggest that there are over 200 million global active users of ad blocking software, and with Google’s recent u-turn on blocking Samsung’s ad blocking app, that number is only going to increase.

TV was forced to re-invent itself and push the creative boundaires, and now it’s the turn of digital storytelling – and there are lessons we can take from TV’s renasonance. During Kevin Spacey’s acclaimed lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, he said that “device and length is irrelevant, it’s all content, it’s just story – and the audience want stories.” The challenge from digital pushed the creative boundaries of TV, resulting in a new golden era of TV with shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Narcos, making people fall in love with TV all over again.

Not only did TV up its game and produce addictive entertainment, it went one step further and gave viewers control. Viewers can watch TV when they want, where they want and on a device of their choosing. Just because the content isn’t consumed on a traditional TV, that doesn’t make it any less TV; just as watching a 3-hour film on an iPad doesn’t make it any less of a film. Our client CBC have fully embraced this new thinking and offer consumers the flexibility and freedom they now expect. Viewers can decide when and how they consume CBC related content whether it’s watching their favourite show on the desktop player, engaging with show creators and actors through social channels or watching live sports on their smartphone.

And now digital is being challenged by one of its own offspring. Alarm bells are ringing for brand and advertising execs, with the growing popularity of ad blocking software. In reality, ad blocking software forces brands and agencies to be smarter and more creative in content development. Average content isn’t good enough; we must create stories that are so good, our viewers will seek them out.

Brands and agencies need to re-think how best to develop these stories. It’s unrealistic to expect a copywriter and art director to create compelling, multi-layered, multi-platform content. Brands are complicated beasts with many stories to tell, so we need to take a leaf out of the TV playbook and be open to change.

Unfortunately, being open to change requires releasing some creative control and embracing influencers who have their own captive audience and a unique way of engaging with them. Influencers know what works best on their channels and what their fans are looking for.

Giving up some creative control may sound like a dirty term, but it doesn’t mean giving up complete control. It should be a collaboration with an outcome that benefits both brand and influencer.

Tapping into an existing audience on non-owned platforms also creates additional benefits for advertisers. Brands have spent millions of dollars to build up social communities on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. After brands built up their fan bases the model changed, and now they need to pay to reach a fan base they paid to develop. It’s not so much that the brand owns the fan database, but instead, they rent it from new world publishers. Many brands struggle to justify having to pay increased media fees to reach an audience they helped build, and justifiably so.

Collaborating with influencers and developing content that is unique, relevant and channel agnostic helps brands reduce the reliance on all content having to be broadcast across their owned social channels with paid media support. Paid social support still has a strong role to play in a marketing toolkit, but as an industry, we need to embrace different ways to overcome emerging threats such as ad blocking and reduce the stranglehold that the power platforms have on reaching target consumers.

Understandably, brands may be slow to embrace influencer co-creation. The metrics and measurement tools to track ROI are neither consistent across platforms nor in line with traditional methods. This uncertainty makes brands uncomfortable, and the likes of Facebook and Twitter only have themselves to blame. These platforms need to offer better measurement methods and show real brand ROI. Knowing how many likes, comments and shares your campaign received will tell you only so much, but to get real brand ROI you’ll need to include social, digital and influencer campaigns in your quarterly brand tracking reports. At Veritas, we Influence the Influencers and have been co-creating with them since before they were called influencers. To help deliver true campaign performance metrics to our clients, we have been developing a bespoke tracking method that we feel will show true impact. More on this next month…

While the industry continues to be in flux, there are still great opportunities to create one-to-one relations across social platforms and to build brands through meaningful, entertaining and credible content. While consumers might not like the idea of further brand messages on digital, we need to make our content so compelling and captivating that they’ll come back again and again for more.

The Orson Wells quote used by Kevin Spacey has never been more appropriate: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”

Kevin Twomey is a Senior Director of Digital at Veritas Communications. Reach out to him or @KevinDTwomey