Yahoo Branded Content McCain Foods

Subconscious Storytelling: Yahoo head of trade research Patrick Hourihan talks digital branded content


By Stephen Lepitak | -

September 3, 2012 | 7 min read

Patrick Hourihan, head of trade research for Yahoo!, will discuss research conducted by the company, entitled Subconscious Storytelling, as part of a panel discussion being held at this month’s ad:tech London conference. Here, Hourihan discusses the findings of the research around the potential for the impact of branded content through online platforms.

What do you mean by Subconscious Storytelling?

It’s a research project that we’ve done to uncover how branded content on digital and other platforms are having a subconscious impact. When we talk about subconscious, it’s really about having a truly emotional impact. A lot of brands talk about the emotional engagement that they are having with consumers without truly knowing to what extent that is occurring. This is about measuring the subconscious, which we can do through our research. The storytelling element, which has a focus on digital around branded content, was looking at the idea that stories in the digital space at the moment tend to be quite short-term. To tell a story, it’s about trying to tap into the idea of emotional engagement with consumers and branded content is one way of doing that. We wanted to see what the value of that was and to see how that played out against branded content on other platforms.

And what were the key findings from the research?

We discovered that that for the first time that online branded impact was delivering a subconscious impact and that was 24 percent greater than offline branded content. We tested both in research. To explain what I mean by subconscious - it’s about emotional closeness between the brand and the consumer. The branded content executions were from McCain’s, Diet Coke, Shell and from Cannon, and across all four of those we saw that uplift.

What were the key trends that you saw across all four that made them a success?

It was really about how well the different executions fitted with the content. It was about making sure that they felt seamless and for the consumer there wasn’t a jarring for a brand being associated with a type of content that didn’t feel relevant. That comes down to the power of the creative. For example, McCain and what they were trying to do with film. Obviously there is not a natural association with those two, but through the power of their branded content and the effectiveness of the comedy within digital and through the Film4 sponsorship, they created this association which meant that there was a clear subconscious impact which delivered emotional engagement.

We’ve seen in previous research that humour has been found to be a key ingredient in delivering brand impact. Was that found to be the case through your own research?

Certainly humour was one thing. The campaigns had different focuses, so that wasn’t the only way in which a brand can engage emotionally through branded content. Another way would be through value of information, for example, the campaign for Shell was about an information-led fuel proposition that told users a way of saving money on their cars and the brand closeness scores for that were particularly powerful, more powerful than TV. We know that TV is an incredibly power medium as well through its visual nature. The kind of thing you can get through the web meant that information was also powerful in delivering emotional engagement.

Which platforms did you focus on through the research?

We looked at branded content executions in TV, in print, in digital over Yahoo and from a YouTube perspective.

What stood out for you as a result of looking at those?

One of the key points that stood out was that context is absolutely crucial. If we focus on digital for a second, the examples where the branded content was housed in an environment, which was in-keeping with the brand and the association through that, worked really well. So Diet Coke’s Style it Light campaign, on Yahoo, it was essentially a fashion content associating itself with Diet Coke, in an area that was highly relevant. By the same token, we saw that the Cannon took more of product placement, which was essentially how to use digital camera’s through video. That was an incredibly powerful way of not only selling the product, but also delivering value back to the consumer.

To summarise what we saw across all four, as long as consumers felt that there was a value exchange going on, and then the brand would benefit from that particular execution.

Did you look at how that translated across mobile?

Unfortunately we didn’t, it was based on internet and TV.

Would that be something you would look to extend your research across?

Absolutely. The next piece of primary research will focus on the value of content through tablets, so it will be across all mobile devices, rather than just on mobile per se. We see tablets as a huge area of potential for Yahoo. With HTML 5 and the opportunities that that is opening up for new devices and we need to understand how consumers are engaging with that type of content in those spaces.

Storytelling has always been a core factor of marketing – but does it differ in any particular way when it comes to online?

What we saw from our research was that there was a clear benefit to what consumers saw that there is a true potential for seamless, long-form storytelling in digital in that it’s not achieved by scheduling around with TV and radio. When brand managers talk about a true storytelling experience, which implies a structure over a long period of time, digital enables that just through the very nature of being able to position your brand where you want to and also the ability to be able to adapt and change that story as you go along through user generated content. The two-way nature of the web allows you to create something that lasts longer. What we clearly saw was that users told us about the value of personalisation of content in digital, which allows for brands to tell stories which can be incredibly personal, which means that the value that they are deriving from those stories increases the value of their brand and therefor sales increase too.

Hourihan will be joined on the ad:tech London panel discussion, entitled; How Can Brands Live Happily Ever After Online?" by Eric Christopher, vice president of Shoutlet, and Huw Waters, head of digital marketing at Whirlpool UK on 19 September at 11.30am.

Yahoo Branded Content McCain Foods

More from Yahoo

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +