B-Roll, Weed and Digital Earned Media

Portland women smoking pot while playing Monopoly is just one of 21 B-Roll videos that an advocacy group shot to change the visual image of recreational marijuana use in Oregon.

Portland women smoking pot while playing Monopoly is just one of 21 B-Roll videos that an advocacy group shot to change the visual image of recreational marijuana use in Oregon.

Making something seem normal is a marketing ploy perfected by the tobacco industry, used by the Harvard Alcohol Project and now employed by pot advocates.

Tobacco marketers surrounded people with posters, ads, cowboys and product placements.  The Harvard project convinced movie and television directors to insert designated drivers into their scripts. Pot advocates are using B-Roll.

B-Roll is video developed by a third party and submitted to news outlets. Usually, B-Roll consists of so-called secondary video footage used by television stations and movie producers as background. However, in the digital media age, B-Roll is taking on greater significance. It has become an earned media vehicle.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based marijuana advocacy group, has released 21 videos in the form of B-Roll with no audio that depict pot smoking by normal people of all adult ages, cooking in their kitchens, playing board games or doing yoga. The group shared the B-Roll videos with televisions stations to replace other B-Roll, which it says typically depicts pot smokers as stoners in seedy settings or rock festivals.

Because Oregon's recreational marijuana law becomes effective July 1, the group wanted to give TV stations and other digital news outlets scenes that "define something new." All the videos supplied to local news outlets were shot in Portland to add to their authenticity as B-Roll.

But instead of just appearing as the visual backdrop for stories about legal weed, the advocate-supplied B-Roll became the core of an extensive news story that ran on several KGW-TV news segments.

The pot-smoking B-Roll is an example of the new world of media relations in which staff-starved news outlets have welcomed third-party content. On this case, the B-Roll itself became the storyline that earned media coverage.

Promoting behavioral or attitude change is not easy. Visual media has for a long time been an essential element of such promotional efforts – a well known actor lighting up, a favorite sit-com featuring a designated driver or cross-walk signals with two same-sex figures holding hands. Third-party content, sometimes called brand journalism or native advertising, is now becoming a staple of PR and marketing pitches.

Setting up and shooting 21 videos of "normal" pot smoking cost some money, but a lot less than shooting a commercial and paying for air time. Pitching the B-Roll videos for earned media coverage, even if only one TV station bit, will put the story in front of more eyeballs than a public service announcement or even a sponsored segment on a non-prime time news show.

The opportunities for earned digital media are expanding. People with stories to tell or behaviors to influence should expand their creativity to take advantage of those opportunities.