Big Brand Content: 3 Hot Takes

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Like yours, my social media feed pops up a lot of content promotions. Some surprise me with things I never knew existed. Some disappoint me because the brand wasted its resources on drivel. And sometimes, I’m inspired.

But, given that I write and edit all things content, I always have a hot take. I’ll express three quick observations as emojis. Then, I’ll delve into what works and what doesn’t in these content packages from Toyota, KitchenAid, and United Airlines.

😃 Toyota goes beyond

Toyota launched After the Nudge, a limited podcast series with hosts Soledad O’Brien, formerly of CNN, and J.R. Smith, a former NBA player with two world basketball championships who enrolled in North Carolina A&T after his retirement.

The duo interviews leaders of organizations that received a $10,000 donation (the “nudge”) from Toyota. Over 20 minutes or so, they talk with the person about their initiative and the impact of the Toyota donation (the “after”). Guests include:

  • Paulana Lamonier of Black People Will Swim, an organization devoted to diversifying pools one Black swimmer at a time. Her Toyota partnership has contributed to record enrollment. She also talks about how other community organizers can benefit from corporate partnerships.
  • Siddeeqah Shabazz of Minneapolis’ Kulture Klub Collaborative, a community program that provides exposure to the arts and other modes of support for teens experiencing homelessness in the region.
  • Khalid el-Hakim, creator of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, a refurbished RV that travels around Detroit. The repository of more than 10,000 artifacts is designed to show how history can propel youth into better futures. Khalid also curates exhibits for audiences across the country.
  • Chi Loek, executive director of New York’s UA3 Community First. The organization began to support Asian American emigrants but has grown to provide health, education, and empowerment services for underserved communities across New York City.

At the end of each interview, listeners and viewers are encouraged to press the “Nudge” button on the AfterTheNudge.com site, and Toyota will donate $1 (up to $300,000) to help HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). The closing screens of the podcast videos include information on how to donate to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro National College Fund.

In addition to the microsite, the podcast videos also live on Toyota’s YouTube channel on the After the Nudge playlist.

What deserves a big smile: Many companies make donations to charitable organizations and say they’re committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Toyota brings its customers inside that work to the effect of that work. The podcast also allows the interview subject to reach a wider audience with their stories, some of whom will likely donate themselves.

Toyota’s choice of hosts also creates a relatable credibility. Soledad brings a professional journalist’s take to hosting and interviewing, while J.R. can attract a sports-interested audience and has a personal interest as a student and promoter of HBCUs.

I also like the audience interactivity. Rather than just saying every view (or some other static metric) leads to a $1 donation, Toyota asks listeners to take an action — click on the button — and drives people to the After the Nudge site. It lets these visitors see the donation progress with its thermometer-like visualization. (It would be even better if it operated in real-time rather than on a one-day delay so the clickers could see the immediate impact.)

🙂 KitchenAid finds genuine ‘pretend’ works

Four years ago, actress Jennifer Garner launched the Pretend Cooking Show on her YouTube channel with a demonstration of how to make honey wheat bread. The stand mixer on her counter? KitchenAid.

A couple of years later, she and the appliance brand united in an official collaboration. And she’s still at it in 2024. The well-done, seemingly homemade videos in Jennifer’s kitchen give an air of genuineness that all potential home cooks and bakers can appreciate.

In this episode, Jennifer cooks a Garner family favorite, chiffon pie, with her mom, who pulls out a hand mixer. In the conversation, Jennifer notes, “I come by my partnership with KitchenAid honestly. We’ve always had Kitchen Aid hand mixers, right mom?” Jennifer says.

“Right. Because they hold up and others don’t,” her mom says.

Watch and listen to the video, and you’ll see that engagement happens naturally, with no script needed:

Jennifer’s role as KitchenAid ambassador extends beyond her kitchen. She’s made surprise deliveries of stand mixers to people who do good in their community.

She also publishes Instagram Reels of her cooking show that attract attention from her fans and other cooking influencers, along with KitchenAid mentions and product links.

What deserves a smile: Influencer collaborations often seem forced. To the audience, it’s obvious the person must be paid to talk about or feature a product in their content. At times, those promotions seem abrupt and irritating, like a commercial showing up between scenes of your favorite TV show.

But Jennifer’s content isn’t like that. She touted her love of the brand – and used its products – long before KitchenAid paid her to be an ambassador. Her Pretend Cooking Show never changed after the paid collaboration started (except now all her countertop appliances are from KitchenAid.)

The collaboration is authentic, which also happens to be Merriam-Webster’s word of 2023. That genuineness resonates well with the audience in a world of AI-generated content and influencers who will promote anything for a buck.

😐 United bores with Love in Plane Sight

Hallmark turned its familiar storyline into a franchise so well known it’s in the global zeitgeist as a synonym for predictable but well-loved romance movies. Recently, United Airlines attempted to capture that interest with Love in Plane Sight. It’s attracted over 50,000 YouTube views and some media attention.

The main character — Elle Towe — heads home and expects her family to ask why she’s still single. Her explanation? She’s an astronomer, and they have weird hours. Then, some guy bumps into her, and she spills her gingerbread latte on her sweater. When she boards the plane, she finds the guy sitting in her row. I won’t go on and spoil the ending of this five-minute “movie.”

What deserves a non-plussed smile: United’s Love in Plane Sight is an obvious spoof, but it’s kinda a dud even in that category. First, mimicking the Hallmark movie formula isn’t new for brands. In 2020, KFC did a campy spoof Recipe for Seduction, a 15-minute movie that aired on Lifetime. It was set in a mansion and featured Mario Lopez as a really odd and handsome Colonel Sanders.

United placed its brand in expected spaces — the airport and the airplane. It also seemed to stuff every possible aviation and sky-related reference into the script. But if you replace the United logos, the story could have worked for any airline. Given that “united” is the brand name, incorporating that concept into the story could have worked well and resonated better so the audience would remember which brand created Love in Plane Sight.

Create a smile with your content

You don’t need your audience to fall in love with your content (that would be a little strange). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t motivate your audience to smile or have some other positive reaction to your brand’s storytelling. Start by being authentic – don’t try to do something that doesn’t match your brand voice.

Once you’ve done that, you can surprise them with less expected but relevant topics told in an interesting way with a fun call to action. That may make them smile or, even better, give your brand a thumbs up. 👍

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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