According to a new report by Brightcove, 61% of retail brands are already offering ‘lean-back’ content. In other words, content that is delivered in a way so that viewers can passively engage with it, much like ‘leaning back’ to watch regular television.
Research has also revealed that a further 33% of retail brands plan to start making this kind of content in the near future, while a staggering 71% believe they are already on their way to becoming a fully-fledged media company.
So, who is creating this kind of content and is it effective? Let’s find out by looking at a couple of recent examples from the UK.
Last September, Matalan announced that it would be partnering with ITV and Time Inc UK to produce a bi-weekly fashion and style show. The idea is that it showcases the best of Matalan products, giving viewers hints and tips on fashion trends, home interiors, and so on.
‘Matalan Presents: The Show’ as it’s called (which is a probably the least catchiest title ever) is now on its 18th episode.
So, is it any good?
Well, we’re not in the business of reviewing TV shows, so perhaps the real question is – will it reach and resonate with Matalan’s target market?
With each episode being around 15 to 18 minutes long (which are also broken up into additional videos of five to six minutes), the show looks and feels much like a traditional daytime television show. This is probably also due to the fact that it is fronted by Denise Van Outen, who is famous for being a TV presenter on terrestrial channels like Channel 4.
It is clearly aimed at women, perhaps slightly older than millennials, but generally interested in affordable fashion. In this sense, the content is likely to appeal – it’s all very light-hearted and slightly ‘Loose Women’, without the dodgy innuendos.
While viewership looks to be a bit up and down, some shows have got more than 300,000 views on YouTube, which isn’t bad at all. Interestingly, the most-viewed videos tend to be the longer episodes rather than short ones, perhaps cementing the fact that there is a demand for long-form brand content.
One clever aspect of ‘Matalan Presents’ is that it has been advertised on traditional television, notably before and in-between the likes of big shows like Coronation Street. This has likely helped to increase views, pointing people who might not have otherwise known about it in the direction of YouTube or Matalan’s main site.
The fact that the content is inspirational, giving viewers direct tips on how to style products available to buy in Matalan, means that as well as increasing general brand awareness, it could also help to drive viewers to purchase in-store and online.
Unlike Matalan, which created an online-only TV show, UK supermarket chain Iceland has created one for both traditional television as well as digital channels.
‘Eat the Week’, hosted by TV chef Simon Rimmer, is a 10-episode series broadcast on Channel 4, based around how to cook nutritious and tasty meals using frozen food products (i.e. from Iceland).
Each episode sees Rimmer help a different family tackle a cooking-related challenge, such as wasting too much food or not having the time to make healthy meals.
In this sense, the aim of the show doesn’t seem to be to merely just promote Iceland. Rather, it seems to be to dispel common assumptions about the brand and its reputation – mainly that frozen food is bad for you. By using a well-known chef as an advocate, Iceland is clearly hoping that the TV show will reach and influence viewers who might not consider the supermarket as an option.
Meanwhile, Iceland is using content related to the show to boost online activity, posting videos on YouTube and dedicating an entire section of its website to recipes.
This is where the content is also likely to be of value to existing Iceland customers. The recipes from each episode are listed alongside the ingredients needed – and the convenient option of adding them to your basket there and then.
However while the TV show is a clever move in this sense, there is one glaring issue which might mean viewers are put off rather than drawn in – and that’s the fact that the whole thing feels a bit like a massive advert for Iceland.
This begins immediately, with a sign appearing at the start saying ‘This programme includes product placement’. Transparency is always a good thing of course, but this does feel quite jarring to see – and it’s not something that we’re used to being told about a television programme. Meanwhile, with Rimmer using Iceland products to cook (when in reality he probably wouldn’t), the whole thing does feel slightly inauthentic.
But is this the future of TV advertising? Maybe it’s an indication of where it’s headed, but much like the increase in use of ad blockers, both brands and broadcasters need to be wary of alienating viewers rather than engaging them. Iceland and Channel 4 have done a good job of creating a generally interesting and engaging show, but everything still feels slightly shoe-horned in.
How can brands succeed?
Despite concerns about authenticity, Brightcove’s survey found that seven in 10 people said that they would be open to watching TV-like content from a retailer or brand.
So, how can brands capitalise on this willingness?
Brightcove also suggest that promoting and targeting the right audience is key, with the most common discovery method currently being peer recommendations or stumbling across content by chance.
Matalan is a good example of how to go one step further and maximise reach, using its partnership with ITV to strategically advertise to the right demographic at an opportune time. It also uses its social presence to increase engagement, often posting shoppable content featuring clothes worn by guests and presenters on the show.
Again, brands must also carefully consider the balance between providing inspiration and appearing too salesy – particularly considering the medium. Consumers might be getting used to watching brand content on digital channels, where sponsored influencer posts are now commonplace, however it is a different story if the content actually appears on TV or a brand’s own website.
This is where Iceland might fall foul of a backlash, especially if consumers feel like the brand is veering too far into advertising rather than offering entertainment or value.
Luckily, it appears many are cautious about the potential pitfalls, with 54% of retailers admitting concern over making the shift from brand to broadcaster. For now at least, there’s still some way to go before brands fully take over our TVs.