May 8, 2017

How to Transfer the Magic of Content Marketing to Innovate on TV

This blog has been updated from the original on 2/10/22

TV is Back! Content Helps TV Rebound

There’s a soon-to-emerge trend on television these days that’ll blow your mind: watching commercials. That’s right. I said it… Not DVRing, where we’ve all developed Olympic-level skills in ad-skipping. Brands are catching on that consumers want to be entertained, informed, and educated, but not sold to, which is already standard practice online. While brands have been listening for a while now on social, tv ads have pretty much stayed the same. Now, that digital-first mindset is having an impact on the way brands reach a tv audience.


Brands are now thinking of this medium as a conversation, not a commercial. And just like you’d talk to someone on social, how would you talk to your target audience one on one? You’d tell, not sell.


This blog is about content AS commercial. Advertisers are turning to storytelling in the form of authentic, non-salesy content that gives to consumers in the hopes of getting something back.


Here are five examples in three categories that can help you turn your broadcast commercial time into unskippable content (and later, how that can capitalize on it by tying it to other digital content):

Emotional Content

Piedmont Healthcare

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 10.34.21 AM


Rashel Stephenson, Executive Producer for Piedmont’s always-creating content team, told Scenic Road this idea came about through a partnership with a local news affiliate to support a breast cancer awareness campaign. As part of that, she and Assistant Producer and Editor Andrew Spratt are creating :30 vignettes that highlight the unique aspects of Piedmont’s breast cancer program.


Piedmont has a pretty long history of focusing on emotional and engaging stories, so this was the next logical step for them.


“The strong majority of the videos our in-house marketing team produces use storytelling versus script. This approach has been very effective for us in creating an authentic brand voice,” Stephenson says. “When we create marketing videos, we make an effort not to ‘talk to’ our consumers. That sounds weird, right?  But we recognize consumers don’t want to feel like they are being ‘sold to.’ Instead, we want consumers to feel like they are overhearing educational information or they are going ‘behind the scenes’ to get some kind of inside scoop. We use storytelling the same way. Even though we have a lot of footage of patients (authentically) sharing things like, “The quality of care I received at Piedmont Healthcare was amazing!” we rarely ever use those quotes. Language like that sounds like marketing.  Instead, we’d rather show a healthy patient, outside of the hospital or clinic office, doing what they love. The story is right there – Piedmont treated the patient’s problem and now s/he is back to doing the things s/he loves.


For this particular :30 commercial, instead of saying something like, ‘Piedmont Healthcare is one of the only health centers in Atlanta to offer genetic testing for breast cancer. We’re the best. Call now,’ we educate with a few facts about how genetics can influence breast cancer risk while showing a woman who had breast cancer in her family. The dated family picture tells the story.”

These spots work because they’re real. They’re emotional. They feel like they’re making you aware of something you need (not just want) in your life. Having a real person share the impact this had on her life is so much more effective than a CEO saying it, or a script that states that. For more on emotional storytelling, visit our previous blog.

Content as Entertainment

National TV: NBC’s The Voice

NBC’s The Voice: Photo by Tyler Golden/NBC

Toyota is a major sponsor of NBC’s The Voice, and knows it needs to entertain this fickle television audience throughout the time block which includes the commercials. Its product placement inside the show tries to not feel forced (music videos, etc.), but this year broke the mold by putting that kind of content during the commercial time. By featuring the talent from the show (and not pushing product) people sometimes aren’t even aware that it’s a commercial, and if they are, they tend to not care as much.

Producers also had an additional Behind the Scenes site that showed off their expertise in this kind of content marketing. They continue to churn out new content regularly on their Facebook page.

Branded Entertainment on Local TV: Walter E Smithe Furniture + Design



This example is in the vein of an HGTV makeover show, and utilizes real people sharing their experience with the Walter E Smithe Furniture + Design company in Chicago. This branded entertainment as a commercial has the added bonus of calling attention to the fact that it’s local, with graphics showing Lincoln Park, a northern Chicago neighborhood.


Even in an age when Amazon can get you your stuff before you know you want it, buying local is still many people’s preference, so calling that out is just plain smart marketing.


Educational / Utilitarian Content


3M is the ultimate in practicality. Their tag line is, after all, “Science. Applied to Life.” This company makes products we all can use, but they’re maybe not-so-sexy. 3M knows that, and figured out how to show the audience the ease of using its product. 3M has innumerable how-to videos across its many diverse categories.


TV ratings are falling as people continue to cut the cord, but when it comes to sheer numbers, it’s tough to match the audience size. The key for brands in moving forward it to leverage the scale of broadcast across digital in a cross-channel marketing campaign.


By creating that integrated multi-channel campaign, you’ll be adding to the end user’s authentic experience with your brand.  Just remember the message should be cohesive and not just repurposed. The same content should not be shared across multiple channels.  It should speak to the audience on that platform in the way they want to be reached (for example, photos and videos on Instagram; articles or infographics on LinkedIn; humor and entertainment on Facebook).


Here’s how a brand capitalizes on the foodie craze on television and showcases the breadth (and dare I say sophistication) of their simple cracker:

And then translates that to Pinterest.


See how they made themselves useful by giving you recipe ideas to make you the life of the party?  They didn’t have to say, “Buy our crackers.”  If you are able to respect your audience and their needs enough to entertain or educate them instead of selling to them, you’ll create content that people actually want to watch, like and share. Forget TV commercials. Content is where it’s at.


Have you seen a brand fully embracing content marketing via TV? Email me to share it.