With Digital and Social, A+E Is Innovating Branded Content for Partners

By A+E Networks InSites Archives
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With linear, streaming, digital and social media at their disposal, the A+E Networks Ad Sales Partnerships Production team finds innovative branded content solutions that drive results. The challenge is to do it in an authentic, natural way that audiences will accept and embrace.

The A+E team's tools are rapidly expanding, and no two campaigns are alike. Recently, A+E has been charting new territory with digital-first and digital-exclusive campaigns that are as premium and high-quality as their linear counterparts.

As A+E's branded content experts, the Creative Partnerships team comprises two units. Under Vice President Niki Mandell, the Partnerships team works with the client and their agencies to conceive brand strategy and develop a content plan. From there, Vice President of Ad Sales Partnership Production Maura O'Donovan and her team shepherd production and bring a campaign to life.

"We work best when we all come together and build content that aligns with the client's and the networks' goals," O'Donovan explained.

O'Donovan produces campaigns that resonate with audiences and satisfy clients' wish lists. To do so, more than ever, her team is leaning into digital and social, including A&E, The HISTORY Channel and Lifetime's websites and social accounts, and third-party streaming services.

A+E's foray into digital branded content mirrors changing media habits. Consumers are as comfortable watching a 90-second vignette on Lifetime's Facebook page as they are binging its famous movies on the couch. As a result, O'Donovan's team works across digital, social, linear, streaming and podcasts. They often mix and match platforms to create dynamic, multi-channel campaigns.

"Clients now see the benefits of reaching viewers in different places," O'Donovan said. "You're grabbing people in different moments of their lives, so you get different brand engagement."

A few years ago, O'Donovan said most clients wanted their products featured on the linear networks. Recently, they're starting to see the value of digital options. A short digital video featuring a product or a host's social post with a brand mention can be less invasive than an overt integration mentioned repeatedly in a 30-minute episode -- and more potent.

"With digital and social, we're able to open the audiences up to deeper connections with our talent and our partners," she added.

O'Donovan's team activated a digital-first campaign to support the latest collaboration between Ancestry, OMD's The Content Collective and The HISTORY Channel. The creative partnership with the premium series History's The Greatest of All Time with Peyton Manning marked a multi-year marketing collaboration to encourage people to learn about their own history by exploring Ancestry digitized records. Featuring female GOAT, Laila Ali (pictured at top), the content series profiled women who made an outsized impact on history. The partnership was crafted to launch on digital and social first with :90-second pieces and roll out over a course of time on linear with :60-second companions. Social also featured snackable versions. Having the various platforms allowed the creative teams at Ancestry, OMD's The Content Collective and The HISTORY Channel to be untethered from a traditional linear format and allowed for a deeper connection with each female GOAT profiled.

"Digital is a great place to innovate," O'Donovan said. "We have more time, and people are open to new things."

Financial service company Fidelity has historically been an early adopter of cross-platform innovation and O'Donovan said they were open to experimenting with The HISTORY Channel's hit Curse of Oak Island. The result was a digital-exclusive spinoff, Curse of Oak Island: Collecting the Clues, where the show's stars try to solve mysteries with artifacts they find.

The series features four-minute episodes available on HISTORY's website and off-domain. A+E also created shorter, 30-second teaser videos for HISTORY's and Curse of Oak Island's social media and streaming partners to raise awareness and drive viewership.

Sometimes, A+E can fashion digital elements without any extra production. As part of a recent campaign for Mercedes-Benz' Sprinter vans, the hosts of The HISTORY Channel mega-hit Pawn Stars used a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van in an episode on linear TV to transport goods. Knowing that the brand also wanted to activate on social and having the vast social audience of Pawn Stars at their disposal, O'Donovan's team produced a unique social-only extension of the integration.

The digital spinoff featured one-minute episodes with the stars taking a camping trip in the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van. They load it to the brim and remark how much space is left. When they forget parts of the tent, they even sleep in it. The extension gave Mercedes-Benz more bang for its buck.

O'Donovan said of the footage, "It's a great example of a client who's really open to listening to us and saying, 'Let's do it!'"

The Partnerships Production team's mission remains the same, O'Donovan explained, no matter the platform. "At our core, we are content creators, and we're creating custom content for our clients with their goals in mind," she concluded.

Read more about A+E's Creative Partnerships team here.

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