brand journalism

Brand Stories Where Brand and Story Are Inseparable

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

The best brand stories are ones where the brand and the story are inseparable, like GoldieBlox, which makes construction toys for young girls to spark their interest in eventually becoming engineers.

Storytelling is in. Brand stories and storytelling are the vehicles of choice for content marketing. But not all stories are created equal.

One of the better brand stories is by GoldieBlox, which was launched in 2012 as a way to "introduce girls to  the joy of engineering at a young age.” Founder Debbie Sterling earned a degree in mechanical engineering and was struck by how few women studied to become engineers.

“Construction toys develop an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” the GoldieBlox website says. “But for over a hundred years, they’ve been considered boys toys. GoldieBlox is determined to change the equation. We aim to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”

The young company, which went from Kickstarter funding to a $1 million in orders in six weeks, features BloxTown on its website. This is a storytelling showplace. There are videos, apps, toys and “The Gang” – four young multiracial women who personify the goals of GoldieBlox. There is Goldie Blox (mechanical engineer and Ms. fixit), Ruby Rails (software engineer and dressmaker), Li Gravity (daredevil who calculates the physics of her stunts) and Valentina Voltz (gadget lover and musician). They even have their own compatible pets, like Nacho, Goldie’s basset hound sidekick who “eats, farts and drools.”

Products are placed on the web page as just another avenue to adventure.

GoldieBlox has a blog with frequently updated content, typically featuring women engineers and technologists, who are called #goldmodels. The blog invites stories from women with careers in scientific and engineering fields (“Engineers in the Wild”), as well as from young girls whose interest in those professions has been piqued.

GoldieBlox is an excellent example of a brand built around and fueled by a story. The story and the brand are inseparable. The GoldieBlox brand story works for several reasons:

  • The story about the brand is authentic
  • The story has human appeal
  • The product and the brand story are closely linked
  • There is a clear call to action.

Too many brand stories are forced or superficial. They come closer to brand hype than a brand story.

Like any other good story, a brand story needs to resonate with its audience, to touch as many of their senses as possible so people feel transported to where the story takes place. That place can be as close as the family living room where a young girl constructs her first whirligig.

From Brand Journalism to Branded Entertainment

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

First came brand journalism. Now we have branded entertainment. 

Tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra sketch sponsored by American Express. Other shows such as “The Voice,” “Blindspot” and “Today” have slipped sponsored content into slots normally occupied by traditional advertising.

Branded entertainment, in the form of comedy sketches, extra interviews or extended segments, reduces the amount of advertising while still making the cash register ring. It is a response to more viewers moving to services such as Hulu that offer content without advertising breaks. TV networks are banking that fewer advertising slots will fetch higher prices and different kinds of slots will appeal to gold-star advertisers like American Express.

The notion of branded entertainment is as old as radio and television. Way back when, individual sponsors were associated with shows. The Jack Benny Show was originally called “The Lucky Strike Program.” Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show was primarily sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. 

Native advertising, where the ads look and feel like the content or medium they appear with, has been gaining in popularity. But it is still advertising, which some readers and viewers want to avoid. Branded entertainment, which involves sponsorships, is an attractive alternative.

National Public Radio has a form of branded news and entertainment, with sponsors that receive Twitter-size acknowledgements. Weather and traffic reports on radio and TV are another common form of branded content.

According to The New York Times, American Express approached NBC last December about its branded entertainment idea, which it will use to promote one of its credit cards. An American Express spokesman called the partnership with NBC an opportunity “to create a different kind of paradigm” for TV advertising in an increasingly segmented market. 

If the experiment works, expect to see it replicated on more than TV shows as well as promoted on popular online news sites. NBC invested $200 million in BuzzFeed, which “will produce online posts related to sponsored programming,” the New York Times reported.

The Case for the Press Release

The press release, despite a checkered past, remains a valuable tool in the digital era to tell a good story.

The press release, despite a checkered past, remains a valuable tool in the digital era to tell a good story.

The press release has been a public relations staple, a pariah and a candidate for burial. But it is still around and, in the digital era, may be enjoying new life.

Ridiculed as self-promoting puffery, press releases don’t have to be stuffed with smarmy statements by company executives. Instead they can be engaging storytelling platforms. 

With slimmer news staffs, credible, well-written press releases can tell an entire story for a news reporter or producer and entice them to pursue it. Or, in some cases, they can use the press release as the stem for their own story.

See one of our recent press releases, and then check out how it translated into a story in The Oregonian

The storytelling press release also can be original content placed on your own website or online newsroom. Your online newsroom can and should be designed to look and feel like a “news” site. And your content, including press releases, should resemble the news.

Some good uses of press releases include:

•  Distilling a story with complexity to its comprehensible essence.

•  Highlighting elements of a story that have human interest and are entertaining or unusual.

•  Conveying meaningful, on-point quotes without an in-person or on-camera interview.

•  Providing the backstory to an event or milestone.

•  Calls to action that drive trackable traffic to your website or online newsroom.

•  Offering background information, visual assets, links and contact information that make following a story easier.

•  Gaining wider exposure than a single channel.

A rule of thumb is that the newsier a press release reads, the more likely it will gain some traction in a newsroom – or on your own online newsroom.

Vanity press releases have less appeal to the media – and readers – than press releases that are audience-centric. The key is providing quality content that is readable and even enjoyable.

Call it brand journalism or anything else, your press release can do the job if it’s clear, clever or convincing and it’s credible. If you want to make the news, your press release needs to be newsworthy – in content, approach and style. It needs to tell a genuine story.