Gulf Green Turtle Conservation

The Talkabout team were out in the wilderness this week filming turtles for EWS-WWF. The shoot took place on the sand flats just off the Ras Al Khaima coastline which saw the crew on location by 5.30am. A total of 6 turtles were tagged over two days and fitted with a transmitter to enable the conservationists to track their movements.



AJ Plus Launch Party

Big day for our sister company, Warehouse Four, last week (2nd June) as the venue played host to the launch of AJ Plus. Around 120 guests attended the event, which saw the venue transformed into a multimedia arena with the whole evening broadcast live via Facebook. However the highlight of the evening was the surprise appearance of Bassem Youssef, the man dubbed as the 'Jon Stewart of the Middle East'.


The Best Branded Content of September


The Best Branded Content of September

When researching this month’s best branded content, I realized it’s now been over five years since Isiah Mustafah came into our lives and rocked the marketing world.

Today, Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign would be considered clever and effective, but it’s easy to forget how revolutionary it was back in 2010, revealing the power of the social web to a generation of young marketers and media creators.

A quick refresher: Old Spice released the above commercial in February 2010, and people immediately loved it. The traditional game plan would have been to just follow up with more spots like it, a la Dos Equis’ long-running “The Most Interesting Man in the World” concept. But Wieden+Kennedy, which created the project, took a different route. Instead, W+K decided to have actor Isiah Mustafah respond to social media comments about the Old Spice Man, sometimes within minutes of them being posted. With a small team of only three writers and one director, they first focused on responding to influencers like Ellen Degeneres and Perez Hilton to generate buzz; then they moved onto everyday users. Over 60 hours, they made 186 video responses.

It was insanely ambitious and insanely popular. As detailed in this excellent case study, there was no blueprint for the campaign at the time; the creative team wasn’t even really sure how or if it would work. But Old Spice put clear guidelines in place that allowed W+K to work quickly, and the result was an Internet sensation—viewed hundreds of millions of times in total—that helped people reimagine what advertising could be.

I reminisce for a couple of reasons. First, Isiah Mustafah has made his glorious return over the past two months, battling with his replacement, Terry Crews, for olfactory supremacy in Old Spice’s new “Smellmittment” campaign. But mostly, I bring it up because you can see its legacy in so many contemporary content strategies. Which brings us to the first piece in our roundup of the best branded content of September… #JetSpree has been touted as the Amazon killer. While that might be a bit of hyperbole, the brand has done one hell of a job differentiating itself from its biggest competitor over the past few months. Especially since Amazon’s work culture can best be described as “white-collar Hunger Games.”

It started with Jet’s amazing product video in July, and continued on September 9, when the company shot and released 50 playful videos celebrating relatively mundane purchases, from tanning oil to a watch. The videos are entertaining, telling stories about the individual shoppers who made the purchases through whimsical touches like comedy troupes and double-dutch jumpers. The company’s entire value proposition is built on using its algorithm to score ridiculous deals, so hyping those customers just makes sense. Plus, it’s a great wrinkle to add to the company’s 12-month, $100 million ad blitz.

WSJ/Netflix: Cocainenomics

Native advertising has a lot of problems, but Netflix ain’t one. The streaming service made waves last summer when it released an impressive piece of storytelling with The New York Times‘s T Brand Studio on the grave issues inside women’s prisons to promote Orange Is the New Black. In September, Netflix managed to top that with a six-part interactive essay on the rise and fall of cocaine cartels as a way to promote its new show, Narcos. The impressive piece was written by award-winning journalist Peter S. Green and will soon be your new favorite example for what high-quality native advertising should look like.

GE: The New GE Reports

Readers of The Content Strategist know that we’re big fans of GE Reports, the online magazine run by former Forbes editor Tomas Kellner. The site does a great job of actually reporting on the fascinating and wide-ranging innovation happening within GE and the rest of the world. Recently, the site got a slick redesign and an uptick in content, posting multiple high-quality stories every day. This Friday’s content, for example, was a timely Q&A with a NASA engineer about Mars and an analysis of whether artificial intelligence will destroy humanity.

Skift/MasterCard: Future Cities

I’m not sure if this counts as two pieces or one since “Future Cities” is actually a native ad by MasterCard on the site of another brand, travel intelligence and marketing platform Skift. You know you’re damn good at content marketing when you’re selling native ads to other brands, and Skift deserves serious kudos here. The two companies collaborated on a series of guides about how cities from Taipei to Amsterdam are using smart technology, better transportation systems, and sustainable design to build the city of the future. According to Skift content strategist Matt Heidkamp, each city has seen at least 10,000 pageviews, with average time spent topping five minutes.

“Historically, branded/sponsored content in the travel business space has felt as if its consisted mostly of repurposed press releases,” Heidkamp wrote in an email. “Because of Future Cities, I think a lot of industry players are starting to see new possibilities for sponsored content.”

Gatorade: Bryce Harper Virtual Reality Experience

I’ve been lucky to try out a bunch of different virtual reality experiences this year between SXSW and events at Framestore, an incredible VR studio on our block in Soho. I’ve floated through the Interstellar spaceship, fell off Castle Black after being shot with flaming arrows, been transported from a Marriott hotel lobby to Hawaii, and luge-raced down a highway. The technology is still in its nascent stages, but it’s getting better, and I have little doubt that it’s going to be huge within the next three years.

It’s also a great space for brands to play in—particularly sport brands. After all, fans want to experience what it’s like to be their favorite athletes. In September, Gatorade got in on the action by creating a virtual reality experience with Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper.

“What we wanted to do is place you inside of his body and give viewers a sense of presence,” explained the video’s director, Rama Allen, in the detailed behind-the-scenes video above. “Find a way to place yourself in the mind of Bryce Harper.”

To do that, Gatorade mapped both Harper and a number of pitchers to recreate the experience of facing 90-mph fastballs at the plate. Nike did something similar this summer, creating a virtual reality experience that put people in the body of soccer star Neymar. Once VR gloves that give you a full-body experience hit the market, expect to see campaigns like this on a regular basis.

Written by Joe Lazauskas | Contently




5 Big Win For Persil Arwa Abaya


5 Big Win For Persil Arwa Abaya

Have to admit, the last time I bought a lottery ticket was about 8 years ago on a trip to the UK. I won 75 quid. Or about US$115 if you're from across the pond. Either way, sadly way too few zeros for me to be able to sail off into the sunset. Still, the feeling you get when you win something is always a good one. So it was nice to find out recently that together with our clients FUSE (OMD) and Henkel Arabia, we'd won a few more awards at the 2015 MENA Digital Awards.


Best Use of Video - Silver
Best Integrated Digital Campaign - Silver
Digital Activation - Silver


The awards were in recognition for the the work on Persil Arwa Abaya and mark the forth year running the campaign has been included in the winners list at regional industry awards. The campaign previously picked up trophies at the 2012, 2013 MENA Cristals and the 2014 MENA Digital Awards.

Ian Carless

Ian Carless

The 2014 Persil Arwa Abaya campaign saw a move away from the previous reality show format of the previous two years. This time the campaign ran for 6 months and featured six prominent abaya designers. Four pieces of bespoke 4-5 minute video content were created around each designer showcasing the designers, their clothes, their inspiration etc. One video was released online each week with a compilation video also airing on the popular MBC 1 morning show. Check out some of the episodes below.

We're extremely proud of the work we've done for Persil. To top things off, the awards mark the fifth year in a row that Talkabout Media has been rewarded for our production work. We've been fortunate enough to have both a client (HENKEL) and agency (FUSE) who have believed in our capabilities and let us do what we do best, create great content. It doesn't really get much better than that.

Here's to producing a lot more award winning work!

Ian Carless | Executive Producer



Client: Henkel Arabia

Agency: FUSE, OMD

Agency Producers: Ines Sebiane, Rosemarie Saad

Executive Producer / Director: Ian Carless

Producer: Anisha Narayan

DoP : Steve Moro

Camera Assistant: Asanga

Post Production: Talkabout Media




Why Content Is Still King When It Comes To Digital

Content is still king when it comes to digital marketing. In order to get ahead of the competition, it has now become increasingly important to incorporate visual content marketing into your campaigns.

Why Use Visual Content Marketing

If you need a reason for using visual content marketing, consider the fact that the number of video content posts has increased by 75 percent worldwide. In the United States, the number of video content posts has increased by an astounding 94 percent. It should hardly come as a surprise that 70 percent of marketers reported that they plan to increase their use of visual content in the coming year, according to Social Media Examiner.

Generating More Response

Although visual content marketing is on the rise, posts with images can also help you to garner more attention. Do you use Twitter? Tweets with images or photos can generate as much as 150 percent more retweets than those posts without images, according to research from Buffer. When it comes to Facebook, posts with photos generated the most action, an impressive 87 percent of total interactions, as reported by eMarketer.

Creating Easily Digestible Information

For brands that want to distribute a lot of information, facts, and statistics, infographics make it easy to do so. Last year alone, 39 percent of business-to-business buyers shared infographics.

Getting Visual Content Marketing Right

Besides knowing that visual content marketing is big and can give your posts more exposure, it is also important to understand how to properly implement visual content marketing.

Visual content marketing should always enhance the user’s experience. Under no circumstances should visual content have the appearance of an advertisement. Instead, it should seamlessly integrate with the user’s experience. Your approach may vary based on the platform you utilize. For instance, the approach you use on Twitter could be quite different from the approach used on Facebook. The differences in each platform can make a significant impact in terms of the audiences that tend to spend time on those platforms, and consequently on your visual content marketing efforts.

It is better to give than to receive. The goal of visual content marketing should always be to provide your users something of value rather than to make demands. Among the most popular types of visual content marketing is the story form, but there are also many other options, including memes. Regardless of the type of visual content marketing that you choose to use, always ask what your user will get from it.

Keep it easily digestible. This is precisely why infographics tend to perform so well; they allow users to digest a lot of information in a short amount of time. In 2014, the use of infographics increased by nine percent, according to trends reported by Demand Gen, indicating that buyers clearly desire short, visual content.

Maintain consistency. There is nothing wrong with mixing up the type of visual content marketing you utilize, or even leveraging different platforms. In fact, doing so can be a powerful way to gain exposure and reach an even larger audience. Regardless of the method of delivery or the platform you use, make sure that your brand identity and personality remain consistent.

Variety Is the Spice of Visual Content Marketing

Among the great benefits of visual content marketing is the ability to keep things interesting with an ever-varying presentation. Do not fall into the trap of using the same staid, boring posts. Explore a variety of options for visual content marketing, such as the following:


On their own, statistics can be somewhat dry and boring. Liven things up by combining them with visuals. With tools such as, you can create shareable videos, infographics, and interactive experiences for use in your visual content marketing campaigns.


Memes are not the right fit for every brand, but if your brand utilizes humor, memes can be a great way to draw attention and show off your humorous side. There are many sources available online for locating memes, such as Memes or you can create your own meme.

Visual content marketing is big and is only getting bigger. Incorporating it into your marketing campaigns today can help you to gain exposure and get ahead of the competition.

Written by Brett Relander | Social Media Today


The Best Branded Content of March


The Best Branded Content of March

Wow! Is it really April already? Has the first three months of 2015 passed that quickly?! Here's a quick look at some of the best branded content from the month of March...

Marriot: The Two Bellman

Last September, Marriott went all in on content with the launch of a 65-person content studio. In March, we started to see those efforts really pay off with the release of Two Bellmen, a 17-minute action-comedy film that’s beautifully shot and immensely entertaining. It has nearly 5 million views since its March 10 release, and even better, the film has YouTube commenters in awe—and drooling a little bit over William Spencer and Caine Sinclair, the two bellmen protagonists.

CreativeLive: Photoshop Experts Open Photoshop 1.0

CreativeLive, an online hub of creative workshops, struck viral gold in March when they celebrated Adobe Photoshop’s 25-year anniversary by challenging a bunch of Photoshop experts to use Photoshop 1.0. It’s a textbook example of knowing how to geek out with your target audience and will make anyone who remembers using an early Mac get all nostalgic. With 1.4 million views on YouTube so far, it’s a big win.

States United to Prevent Gun Violence: Guns With History

Gun safety advocacy groups are faced with a colossal challenge: Owning a gun increases the risk of homicide, suicide and intentional death, yet 60 percent of Americans still believe owning a gun will make them safer. In an attempt to change some minds, the nonprofit States United to Prevent Gun Violence set up a “gun store” in NYC, only to regale shoppers with the tales of the accidental death that each gun caused. It’s a powerful video—one that’s accumulated nearly 4 million views in just two weeks— and definitely something I’m going to revisit when I inevitably get into a drunken argument with half my family over gun safety laws this weekend.

Durex: #Connect

The gold standard for viral brand videos is Dove’s Real Beauty sketches, which, two years ago, generated nearly 30 million views in the first 10 days after they went live. But in March, Durex gave Dove a run for its money with “#Connect,” a video that parodies Dove’s style while introducing a “sexy new smartphone technology” to tech-addicted couples. Since March 11, it’s racked up over 36 million views on YouTube, and while you see the joke coming a mile away, it still hits the spot. (No pun intended.)

Microsoft’s Collective Project: Robert Downey Jr. Delivers a Real Bionic Arm

There's usually one video that will make you cry a little. May I present Robert Downey Jr., dressed as Iron Man, delivering a prosthetic arm to an awesome 7-year-old boy named Alex. By the time the big Iron Man hand grasps the little Iron Man hand, you’re probably going to lose your s**t.

A selection from an original list compiled by Joe Lazauskas at Contently.



The War For Content Distribution Supremacy

The war over content distribution is heating up, and venture capitalists are rushing to provide ammo.

A few weeks ago, ad tech company Keywee raised $9.1 million from the likes of Google’s Eric Schmidt and The New York Times Company to help brands and publishers distribute their content to the people most likely to read it, about a month after Taboola raised a staggering $117 million in its bid to accomplish the same goal.

In the year or so prior, similar companies like Sharethrough, TripleLift, and SimpleReach all raised millions of dollars with the intention of using some algorithmic sorcery to put a brand’s content in front of the highest number of consumers likely to purchase one of its products, at the lowest possible cost to the marketer.

During that same time period, Yahoo, AOL, and Google all either developed, acquired, or were reported to be working on a content recommendation platform of their own.

Are you sensing a trend?

Simply put, Keywee’s round of funding is the latest indicator content marketing has reached a tipping point: Major brands are all generally in agreement that creating stories people enjoy is a big part of any successful marketing plan. And in such a crowded marketplace, it’s not enough for brands to merely create great content and stick it on their owned media properties. The winners and losers in the space are also being determined by how well they can build an audience for that content by acquiring new readers from other sites across the Internet.

Unsurprisingly, venture capital firms, startups, and the tech industry’s biggest players are lining up to help brands find their next loyal customer and woo them with the stories they’ve spent hours perfecting.

“I think it’s very easy to see that distribution is one of the big challenges today—it’s not an afterthought,” said Keywee co-founder and CEO Yaniv Makover. “You have to pay for distribution, and if you’re paying for distribution, you might as well get it right.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Keywee, the tech platform uses a text-scanning technology to determine the characteristics of a piece of content and then distributes that content to the members of an advertiser’s target demographic who are most likely to be interested in it. Right now, the platform purchases space across Facebook, Yahoo, and Reddit, and uses information about prospective readers to customize the headline and image that will be used to get their attention in the feed.

In a sense, Keywee and platforms like it are doing for sponsored content what the first demand-side platforms did for display advertising. They give marketers a chance to automatically tap into inventory across numerous websites while using data to reach the most desirable users.

Graham Hunter, head of growth marketing at the startup training program Tradecraft, said these platforms have emerged because as display advertising lost its effectiveness due to cookie clearing, private browsing, ad-blocking, and banner blindness, marketers started to see the value in branded content.

The ascendance of the Taboolas, Outbrains, Sharethroughs, and Keywees of the world has no doubt also been hastened by the rise of Facebook and the mobile web, which changed the way people consume content. Where users once actively sought out entertainment on their own by visiting their favorite websites, they are now content to stay on Facebook or Twitter and wait for whatever pops into their newsfeeds. In fact, a recent report from Shareholic found that Facebook’s share of web referral traffic has grown more than 275 percent since December 2011. The social network is now the referral source for about one quarter of all web traffic.

That means brands need to be proactive about pushing their stories directly to consumers.

When I spoke with Intel content strategist Luke Kintigh for a story I wrote last month, he told me that, over the years, his team has shifted from spending 90 percent of its time creating content and only 10 percent for distribution to allocating equal time for the two tasks.

“People are looking for a new way to find marketing performance in the digital age,” Hunter said. “You’re seeing the same exact technologies that drove programmatic display now being applied to content marketing.”

The importance of developing a multi-pronged approach to content distribution heightened when Facebook started limiting organic reach for brands toward the end of 2013. According to Colin Nagy, The Barbarian Group’s executive director of media and distribution, Facebook’s changing policies have made it expensive to get good reach on the social network, pushing marketers to experiment more with content recommendation platforms like Outbrain and Taboola.

Ultimately, Nagy sees a world where brands and agencies will be able to use a single platform to create, measure, and distribute their content across the Internet, a future you can see foreshadowed by the growing number of partnerships between companies that help brands create bcontent and social distribution platforms. Contently, for instance, are official partners with Outbrain and LinkedIn, and Percolate is a partner with Socialcode.

“Rigorous analytics are essential, but also, I think it is important to stretch and try new platforms and not expect the world right off the bat,” Nagy said. “I like brands that are willing to experiment with new platforms and publishers without over-committing … There’s a fine balance to be struck.”

So where does all this leave the platforms vying for brands’ advertising budgets?

Contently VP of Marketing Raymond Cheng believes the content distribution war will be won by the companies with the best algorithms, those that can bring in lots of data and accurately predict what content will resonate with consumers.

“Generally speaking, you want to go with somebody that’s a little more established because it means their models have had time to get better,” Cheng said. “You also want to go with a vendor that has extremely awesome account management support, because getting started is really hard and you don’t want to blow a lot of money and figure everything out on your own. You want to have an account manager who will sit next to you and help you iterate and hold your hand and help you get better.”

As for Keywee, the company will be looking to improve its product over the next several quarters by expanding its platform to offer placements on LinkedIn and Twitter. The company is also planning a subscription service through which customers will be able to use its performance analytics in the content creation process.

“A lot of the technology [around content distribution] needs to be rebuilt, and it creates a very big opportunity that’s relatively untapped,” Makover said. “I think it’s very, very early in the way amplification is being done.”

In the meantime, Keywee and its competitors will be hard at work trying to do whatever they can to capitalize on that opportunity.

As for who will come out on top in the end? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, but ammo and alliances seem destined to play a big role.

Written by Aaron Taube | Contently



The State of Content Marketing Heading Into 2015

There’s a good chance we will look back at 2014 as the year brands first seriously plunged into the content marketing waters. Terms like native contentbrand publishing, and owned media are set to evolve from buzzwords into crucial staples of marketing success. Marketers are looking to invest in longform storytelling, both in print and online. And instead of relying on disruptive banner ads, brands are starting to get smart about targeting customers with original content.

But content marketing is still in its infancy, and marketers have a number of challenges to overcome. As we discovered earlier this year, measurement remains a hurdle; our content measurement survey from this summer found over 90 percent of marketers were not confident that their key content metrics were effective in measuring business results. For the year’s end, we wanted to broaden our scope and ask our audience of content marketers some important questions related to their triumphs, failures, and future goals: What types of content led to the most ROI? What resources were in short supply? What are some of the biggest challenges marketers face on a daily basis?

What follows is a crucial snapshot of the content marketing landscape as we head into 2015.


Between November 5 and November 17, Contently surveyed 601 marketers with an 18-question online survey.

As the survey was answered by nearly our entire population target, the calculated margin of error was approximately one percent.


In the next section we’ll unpack the noteworthy results in detail, but at first glance, a few striking data points stand out:

  • Sixty-nine percent of marketers back original content over licensed content.
  • Fifty-seven percent of all companies have two or more people dedicated to content marketing.
  • While a slim majority of marketers are devoting 25 percent or less of their marketing budgets to content, 23 percent are now devoting over half their marketing budgets to content.
  • Fifty percent of marketers are looking at return on investment (ROI) and lifetime customer value (LTV) as the most valuable goals to measure.
  • Seventy-four percent of marketers believe that they could drive 2.5x more ROI, brand lift, or LTV if they had an expert content team, indicating a strong level of optimism heading into the new year.


Publishing quality content over time requires a healthy investment when you account for the talent and tools required. Here, we see there’s a huge range in the resources companies are committing to content marketing. While 52 percent of marketers are devoting 25 percent or less of their marketing budget to content, a significant group—23 percent—have shifted over half of their marketing budget to content.

Over the past few years, it’s been common to see content marketing treated as an experimental marketing practice, often put in the hands of a single employee juggling other responsibilities. While that’s still the case for 43 percent of respondents, it’s promising that more than half of all brands have at least two employees dedicated full-time to content marketing. Companies like Coca-Cola have succeeded with a balanced model that teams a few full-time employees with dozens of freelancer working remotely.

Given the small teams who are dedicated to content marketing, it’s not a big surprise that approximately two-thirds of respondents are creating fewer than five pieces of content per week. Finding the right balance of quality and quantity is one of the biggest challenges marketers face today, but it’s one that needs to be tackled if brands want to compete with traditional media companies for audience attention.

Considering most marketers only publish a few times per week, filling those slots with the right content becomes even more important. Interestingly, respondents didn’t overwhelmingly prefer or dismiss one medium over another—save for infographics. Longform, shortform, video, and social media posts were all deemed the most effective medium by between 16 and 23 percent of respondents.

Of note: Almost one-fifth of those surveyed picked “I don’t know.” Perhaps the popularity of that answer choice echoes the idea marketers are still searching for the best way to link their content to business results.

A marketer is only as good as his/her tools, and those tools include time, money, and analytics. Fittingly, our respondents identified budget (34 percent), the inability to measure business results (22 percent), and lack of time (11 percent) as their biggest challenges.

Ostensibly, these challenges are all connected. A larger budget can open access to the necessary analytic tools and resources, and the right analytics help content marketers devote their time and money to the most effective tactics.

When it comes to publishing original content versus licensing content from other publishers—also known as syndication—the results are clear: More than two-thirds of those surveyed favor original content. That answer shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. If readers can get your content elsewhere, what would make them come to you specifically?

As Cyrus Shepherd, director of content and SEO at Moz, told Contently co-founder Shane Snow: “Syndicated content is like giving popcorn to children. It will keep them busy for a while, but that’s it.”

Moz, a robust content creator in its own right and a leader in search engine optimization, doesn’t syndicate any content in either direction. “I think all the value is having something original,” Shepherd said.

Licensed content from other publishers rose in popularity in the early days of content marketing as a one-click solution to populating corporate blogs and as a hack for boosting search rankings. But its clear from these findings marketers see limited value in it.

What if marketers could create content under ideal conditions? The responses here show how optimistic marketers are about the maximum benefits of their content marketing operations. Notably, a majority of respondents seem to think they could increase ROI or brand lift by 2x–5x with the right team producing high-quality content.


Interestingly, even though a plurality of marketers selected ROI as their most important marketing goal, lifetime customer value and audience growth were very close behind. When it comes to content, measuring success can be a complex endeavor, with ROI, LTV, and audience growth all intersecting at various points.

However, the results suggest marketers are embracing a nuanced approach when figuring out how content can impact their bottom lines. Cultivating a loyal audience takes time, but the benefits are long-lasting. Once you have a relationship with your consumers, the ROI should follow.


Though many still treat content marketing as an experimental trend, brands are quickly learning that there’s a science to creating content—and spending their sacred budget.

Clearly, there’s plenty of room for growth. According to a recent study by the Content Marketing Institute, only 23 percent of B2C marketers are successful at tracking ROI. Everyone points to Red Bull, GE, and American Express as the all-stars of content marketing, but aspiring content marketers likely need some of the resources afforded to those best-in-class brands—a stable supply of time, money, and analytics that take the guesswork out of their jobs.

Ultimately, the fate of content marketing isn’t in the hands of the marketers pushing for creativity on a daily basis. In reality, it depends on a dedicated investment from the executive level. For example, American Express President Ed Gilligan fully supported Open Forum’s initiative to publish small business content, and Marriott International Chairman Bill Marriott, who doesn’t use computers, still saw the value of telling his company’s story directly to consumers and has invested heavily in content.

Thanks to an early commitment from the executive level, Red Bull now employs approximately 135 people just for their media house, and Nestlé’s digital editorial team consists of almost 20 community managers and designers producing content every day. And according to the Columbia Journalism Review, Coca-Cola “now reportedly spends more money creating its own content than it does on television advertising.”

In 2014, many brands tested the waters, and a few dove in headfirst. In 2015, we’ll see how many follow.

Written by: Jordan Teicher, Contently



Why Do Stories Matter? That’s Like Asking Why You Should Eat

For a new storytelling mini-series, Contently gave four filmmakers or producers an open-ended assignment: Create a one- to two-minute film that interprets and answers that critical question, “Why do stories matter?” Last week, the answer was hilarious; this week, it’s quite beautiful, and comes courtesy of House of Nod, a two-time Emmy-winning “full service creative and production wunder-haus.”

Contently spoke with House of Nod creative director Robert Kolodny to learn more about how they approach storytelling—and tackled this strange assignment.

What was the first story you can remember telling?

When I was six years old, I wrote a short story called Jack and the Werewolf, which my parents submitted to a local Halloween-themed story contest. I wound up winning first prize and a “witch” read it out loud on public access television in central New Jersey.

Why did you choose to tell the story you did in this video?

Because storytelling is something beautifully democratic. Anyone is allowed to do it anywhere in the world, regardless of location or circumstance, and it requires no tools. Just think and say something/draw something/sing something/film something, then from nowhere a story is born. It’s truly one of the most incredible facets of being alive. I wanted to show stories being told from many different people in many different places.

Do you think stories actually matter, or were you just humoring us?

I genuinely do believe that stories are as vital as eating or breathing. They make our memories real and their details come to define the narratives that make us who we are.

What’s your favorite story?

When the underdog wins.

Tell a funny story in 50 words.

Once while directing a short film that involved the use of a live pigeon as one of the central characters, we decided the best way to work with the bird(s) was to build a full-sized coop in the kitchen of my small apartment. Needless to say, hilarity ensued.

What advice would you give brands that are trying to tell stories that don’t suck?

Be adventurous, honest, and a little bit weird. Stories are compelling when they have a real emotion or sentiment attached to them which the audience can engage with. Be passionate, be funny, be willing to push the envelope… just don’t ever be boring.

Who are your three favorite wizards?

The wizards of cinema of course: Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and François Truffaut.

Name your least favorite band.

Every band I played in during high school.

Written by Joe Lazaukas, Contently



4 Lessons From Thrillist Media Group's Success in Both Content and Commerce

Advice-focused publisher is prepares to launch agency.

When it comes to men's lifestyle content online, Thrillist Media Group believes it has the market covered. Its sites—food, drink and travel-focused Thrillist; technology- and lifestyle-based Supercompressor; and men's fashion portal JackThreads—tallied a combined 14 million monthly uniques in January. 

Thrillist Media Group CEO Ben Lerer spoke during a fireside chat Monday at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Phoenix, Ariz., about blending content and commerce to connect audiences with brands. Adweek caught up with Lerer and Todd Anderman, Thrillist Media Group president of sales, marketing and operations, to talk more about Thrillist's strategy and future plans, including opening an internal agency.

Here are four takeaways:

1. Agencies can get results by combining custom content and data

Echoing the move many digital publishers have made recently, Thrillist Media Group is opening its own internal agency, Lerer said. The yet-to-be named division, which the company developed over the past year, will create branded events and content, and it will use Thrillist data to advise strategy.

"Publishers know how to tell their stories and talk to their audience in ways that a third party might not," Lerer explained. "I think in our particular case because of the content and commerce, we have an ever-deeper understanding of our audience from a data perspective—and anecdotally, we really get these guys. That's why we built the agency."

Anderman said what sets its agency apart from competitors is that it will focus on creating content based on brand goals and then using data to execute the right distribution strategy. For example, Thrillist will create 10 pieces of content for a brand and measure in real time how its readers are reacting. Based on what performs, it will optimize what should be distributed and where.

"For us, it's a real art and science mix," Anderman said.

2. A men's perspective doesn't have to exclude women

Lerer said Thrillist content is written from a man's perspective, and it will always have a masculine tone. However, because much of the subject matter can appeal to anyone, it's reaching many women, as well. He noted that women are often comfortable reading men's content, while men might shy away from a women's publication.

Anderman, however, believes the success with a wider audience is due to the fact that Thrillist properties have always taken the tone of a "friend," and it focuses on imparting what he calls "high-low advice."

"We'll write about the best steak restaurant that you'll go to and then the dive bar afterwards," Anderman said. "We write about those guys who are getting a pair of $300 sneakers and a T-shirt. You really can't classify this person by the terms of what they are doing. We're seeing that content mix resonating outside our typical demo."

3. Thrillist's success stems from its service roots

Lerer said the company has a lucrative content and commerce business because, at its core, its content has always been rooted in giving advice. That didn't change when the company began partnering with brands.

"The idea that we're giving guys information around how they can use their money, it built a certain kind of relationship. Even if we were independent of commerce, we already had a relationship that was mid-to-lower funnel," Lerer said.

4. Experiential marketing is another kind of native content

Custom content doesn't always have to be written, Lerer points out. Thrillist Media Group also creates events, such as Hotel Thrillist and Best Day of Your Life, that allow brands to interact with consumers offline. Last year, it held about 75 events in 20 cities. It also creates other types of real-world brand integrations, including a moon boot inspired by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's moon footwear created through a partnership between JackThreads and General Electric.

"When we think about experiential, it's that same idea as the moon boot," Lerer explained. "It's physical content. It creates a different kind of engagement with a user. It's a way to take something we're doing online and take it out into the real world."

But Lerer said it's about more than slapping a marketer's banner over the door. People have to be willing to pay for the experience, so events must bring brands and consumers together in seamless ways.

"The brand basically has to make your experience better," he said. "That works offline and online with our ad product, as well. A brand has to add value to our customers."



Content, Community, Commerce: Inside Marriott’s Thriving 65-Person Content Studio

Content, community, commerce. For Marriott International, the three C’s drive a business strategy that just netted the company a “Brand of the Year” honor from French content market MIPTV. But even before the accolades started coming in, Marriott has been on the front line of media news since September. That’s when the company became the first travel brand to launch its own content studio.

The project was spearheaded by Marriott’s global marketing officer, Karin Timpone, and its vice president of global creative and content marketing, David Beebe, who joined the company last July. Beebe, who has a background in creative development and worked for Disney/ABC, Showtime, and DirecTV, was tasked with shepherding the 18-brand hotel giant over new marketing terrain. “It’s no longer about brand-first,” he says. “It’s about giving consumers content that adds value to their lives, and in return adds value to us.”

Just four months old, the Marriott Content Studio counts 65 people on its team. It’s an amalgamation of Marriott’s existing in-house agency, which through a traditional agency model has historically guided the company’s brand strategy and voice, and a new crew of editorial and creative development specialists. Marriott will be using its newfound capabilities to develop episodic story-driven content.

“Brands like Red Bull and GE are trying to own a space—action and sports, or innovation and technology,” Beebe says. “When we set out to do this it wasn’t about emulating other brands but owning the travel space from a content perspective.”

Indeed, the vertical lends itself well to content marketing. Numerous travelers now create travel blogs and videos, tag their photos, and share their experiences with friends. But Beebe says that prior to the studio’s launch no other brand had “stepped up” to take advantage of this opportunity to build loyalty through content. “That,” he says, “is the way to connect.”

And in the past few months, the studio has been busy building that loyalty. Leveraging Beebe’s industry connections, Marriott has been seeking out partnership deals with producers and content creators throughout the entertainment community. Its mission is to identify social media influencers who are trusted by travelers and have a knack for creating authentic content.

“All the content we’re creating—whether it’s destination or utility, travel hacks or entertainment—is being produced with content creators in the creative community,” Beebe explains.

Success on Snapchat

These partnerships are being forged like traditional Hollywood deals: For a set period of time, content creators work exclusively with Marriott to develop ideas. If they do a good job, the deal might extend to another platform, like Instagram, or lead to a webisode series.

Among the influencers tapped by the brand are Shaun McBride (@Shonduras), Brittany Furlan (@brittanyjfurlan), and Casey Neistat (@caseyneistat), who together are creating a series of interactive stories that live on Snapchat. Working with Snapchat marketing and analytics agency Naritiv, Marriott launched the @MarriottHotels channel late last year to become the first major hospitality company to use the photo messaging platform.

Each influencer takes over the Marriott Snapchat account to document his or her travels, but it’s the app’s users who decide where the influencers will go. The ensuing content leads to practical information consumers can use: real-time tours, travel tips, and itineraries that are published both on the influencers’ own channels and on Marriott’s.

“The engagement on Snapchat is ridiculous,” Beebe explains, “the highest across any platform we’ve seen.”

Tapping Talent on YouTube

In addition to producing ephemeral content, Marriott is also using their content team to power longer-lasting relationships on YouTube. An exclusive production deal with Jack Harries and his YouTube channel, JacksGap, which boasts 3.9 million subscribers, will result in a series of three short travel films that focus on destinations from among the 78 countries Marriott International serves. The company has also signed a development deal with backpackers and video bloggers the Vagabrothers.

With these types of initiatives, Marriott plays an understated role. It’s clear to consumers the brand is enabling Shaun McBride to go to Hong Kong or Jack Harries to visit New York, and Beebe says they “appreciate that.” The focus, though, is on the influencers and their command of content that resonates with their fans, the coveted “next-gen travelers” for whom digital media is a driving force.

“One mistake brands make is that they don’t build relationships with talent,” Beebe says. “[For] pretty much anyone major in the travel space on YouTube and Snapchat, we’ve already got locked up.”

Exploring New Narratives

The company’s content studio isn’t only taking on social media, either. As a result of another partnership, this time with parkour, martial arts, and music collective Substance Over Hype, Marriott began shooting an original short film called Two Bellmen this month.

“A lot of people expect this to be a commercial,” Beebe says. “It’s the complete opposite of that.”

Two Bellmen combines storytelling and action with legitimate film and television talent and is set at the JW Marriott Los Angeles. The film is expected to run about 18 minutes and will be distributed both through in-room TV to the hotel company’s 48 million Marriott Rewards members and on

Additionally, “Year of Surprises,” a 12-episode digital series, was created for Marriott Rewards members and to celebrate the program’s 30-year anniversary. It premiered in October and documents surprises presented to inspiring people.

And while some projects are designed for a wide audience of viewers—like Travel Brilliantly, Marriott’s crowdsourced travel innovation program—others are specific to one hotel brand or demographic. For example, AXS TV series “The Navigator Live,” produced in partnership with entertainment presenter AEG, speaks to the music-loving traveler who favors Renaissance Hotels by taking viewers behind the scenes with indie artists as they perform at the hotels and discover new cities on the road.

A New Medium

And then there’s Gone, a compilation of travel articles on blogging platform Medium. Gone launched in December with the goal of publishing 60 original pieces over four months that take readers from Venice to New Orleans to Saigon to Brazil. Marriott is the first travel brand to create a Medium vertical, giving it the unique position to power stories that are useful to travelers using Medium’s vast community of writers and content contributors.

Most of the stories, penned by journalists, make no mention of Marriott at all beyond including one of its hotel logos. Only a few—like “Haiti Is Open for Business,” which looks at the brand’s role in supplying the local community with new jobs—include a call to action to book a room.

Of Marriott’s overall publishing strategy, Beebe says, “Whether scripted or unscripted, the hotels are a character in the story. It’s not about integrating ourselves into the content.” He also notes that the company is planning to enhance the Marriott Rewards platform to create a community akin to the American Express OPEN Forum that fosters more user-generated content. Resort destination guests in Hawaii, for example, may soon be provided with GoPro cameras to document their trips.

Also in the works is a scheme to incorporate its growing reserve of stores with, which has 36 million monthly visitors and represents an enticing distribution platform. Destination content, both new and culled from other programs, will eventually be delivered to guests after they book reservations.

“Everything we do ties back to those three C’s,” Beebe says. “How are we engaging consumers and creating social conversations? How are we driving Rewards sign-ups and sales?” For Marriott, hiring a team of content experts and declaring a commitment to multi-platform travel storytelling is proving to be a journey worth taking.

Written by: Tessa Wegert, Contently.