When it comes to branded video, everyone’s looking for the next Subservient Chicken —the next big viral video hit whose humor or just plain oddness compels viewers to share it with their friends and thus build impressions.
But for some time now, General Mills’ Betty Crocker brand has been working with digital video agency TouchStorm to create branded editorial video content that works not by generating viral buzz but simply by providing a targeted audience—parents baking children’s birthday cakes—with exactly the step-by-step information they want. And they’ve done it well: Since 2008, the library of videos has received more than 70 million views on more than 1,500 URLs associated with the TouchStorm Editorial Network and its flagship site, www.Howdini.com.
The video partnership between the Betty Crocker cake-mix brand and TouchStorm was formed in 2008 when General Mills came to TouchStorm with a problem and a question. The problem was that the BettyCrocker.com Web site was not performing commensurate with the brand’s dominant status in the marketplace, driving only 2.5 million views per month. With broadband becoming more widely available in most homes, the question arose: What kind of information could the brand provide that its customers would find useful and engaging?
The videos would also have to be high enough in quality to draw the acceptance of reputable, high-traffic Web publishers. “We knew we had to have some good videos so that we could look a major publisher in the eye and say, ‘This is content, not advertising,’” says TouchStorm CEO Alison Provost.
That was out of step with the common thinking of the day about branded video, which either took aim at creating viral hits like Dove’s “Evolution” video or the BlendTec “Will It Blend?” series or transplanting TV spots into pre-roll ads that basically interrupted users looking for other content.
“We wanted to get out of the interruption business and more firmly into the solution-based ‘let-us-help-you’ business,” says Doug Moore, vice president of branding for General Mills.
Provost says the insight that became the driver behind the video series came from Moore. “He told us, ‘I am tired of search companies telling me that “chocolate cake” is the top search term’” when in fact, aggregating search variants might show that “apple pie” in all its forms outscores chocolate cake. (The project also led TouchStorm to develop its proprietary Search Revelator tech, which aggregates similar keywords and phrases to uncover primary search drivers.)
The company sat down with TouchStorm to analyze what terms bakers were searching on. They determined that relatively few were looking for information using variants of the “Betty Crocker” branded term. Instead, bakers were most often searching the Web for specific-occasion solutions such as “birthday cakes”, and most often for very specific birthday projects such as “castle cake”, “princess cake” and “guitar cake”.
This was welcome news. Not only did General Mills have a handle on what projects its users wanted to know about, but of course birthdays happen all through the year; and video around the concept could drive traffic down those baking aisles not just seasonally but daily.
As a result, TouchStorm began designing, shooting and distributing a series of HD-quality instructional videos teaching users how to bake very specific types of children’s birthday cakes. The videos were relatively long in form, most running five minutes or more, and were shot on kitchen sets that looked as professional and as well dressed as anything on morning TV. TouchStorm recruited as emcee Laurie Gelman, former host of “The Mom show” on Canadian television, and got professional baker and cookbook author Liv Hansen to create and demonstrate the cakes.
To convey the message that these are about instruction and not promotion, the videos contain very little explicit Betty Crocker branding. At the start of most of the videos, Hansen identifies herself as working for the Betty Crocker Kitchens, but other than that, the brand is seldom to be seen in logos or even pack ages on the bake table. In fact, says Provost, the producers have run into some situations in which they should perhaps have included more branding, such as viewers wanting more information about whether a Betty Crocker-brand frosting was the thick or creamy variety.
TouchStorm began by syndicating the videos to its Howdini.com site, and optimizing them to be found in searches by their metatags in Google, Yahoo, YouTube and other engines. To this day, and despite all the birthday, cake and princess videos that may have been added to YouTube or other sites since 2008, the Betty Crocker content still comes up first or second in a search for “princess cake”. Over the last few years, TouchStorm has also built out its own network of Web sites and social media sites and made the Betty Crocker videos available to relevant sites in that network along the way.
The videos are highly engaging to their target audience. While the average video is turned off after 5% or 10% of its content, most viewers watch more than 75% of the average Betty Crocker cake video.
TouchStorm has only just started to measure the amount of traffic the videos are driving to the BettyCrocker.com site. Right now viewers can click through via links on the Howdini and Betty Crocker YouTube channels; Provost says it’s too early to tell what volumes they will drive, but expects the numbers to be significant. Nor do either the brand or TouchStorm know exactly how many social shares the videos have received to date.
But both General Mills and TouchStorm are confident that the videos are achieving their aim of building brand loyalty by providing instructional help. “When you have a problem such as a child’s birthday party in two days and someone gives you the resources you need to solve that problem—that’s the kind of loyalty brands usually spend millions of marketing dollars to achieve,” says Provost.