Why brands are turning to Amazon Prime Video to distribute their own content

Lexus is not the first and won’t be the last brand to think it can make content so good people will pay for it

Amazon’s Prime Video Direct was initially set up as a self-serve platform to let production companies upload videos to sit alongside Amazon’s own TV shows and movies. Two years after its launch, advertisers are now starting to see it as a viable distribution tool for branded content.

Not only does Prime Video have the potential to act as a serious distribution platform – analysts estimate that there are over 75 million people subscribed to Prime worldwide – but if the content reaches enough eyeballs then the brand behind it can make money.

Amazon pays royalties based on how many hours a video has been watched, though recently it cut those rates in the US from between 4 to 15 cents to 4 to 10 cents-per-hour streamed.

Despite changes to revenue structures, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover are among some of those experimenting with the tool.

The former is running an Endemol Shine-made film about South Pole exploration on the streaming site while Jaguar has uploaded a 55-minute documentary delving into its ‘Electrify’ programme.

Toyota-owned car brand Lexus, meanwhile, recently launched a campaign that was centred on a ’60,000-hour long documentary’ showing four Japanese master craftspeople trying to achieve ‘Takumi’ or master artisan status.

It hasn’t put the full thing on Amazon but an hour-long edit does live on Prime Video.

The brand explains that there were a couple of reasons for going down this route. Firstly, with consumers binging on streaming apps, the car marque thought it stood a better chance of retaining attention than it would on YouTube, Facebook or TV.

Secondly, it needed the scale.

“We were looking at distribution and as we operate in many markets, we needed to make sure we could get it across all of them,” said Spiros Fotinos, global head of brand management and marketing at Lexus. “And when we were looking at what potential options we had on the table, after assessing the various options Amazon Prime was the place to go to give us the kind of reach and audience we were looking for.”

The fact the brand will make cash back if people view the film isn't a factor that Fotinos dwelled on for too long when it came to revealing his reasoning for opting for Amazon’s platform. However, it’s an interesting take on how brands can diversify revenue streams – Lexus is not the first and won’t be the last brand to think it can make content so good people will pay for it – but the car giant would need 40,000 people to watch it for the full hour (if Amazon was being generous with the royalties) if it wanted to make £40,000 – the average price of a vehicle.

And while it might have the audience to achieve this, Amazon offers no guarantees that people will find the content that creators upload. Brands can't pay to promote or have videos feature on the homepage, though algorithms will serve it up to people if they’ve clicked on something similar previously.

For Lexus, it has relied on its “big clientele base” and employees to get the word out that the film is on there.

Fotinos would also argue that the quality of content is such that people will actively seek it out, though. It hired cinematogpraher Clay Jetter to direct the film and debuted it to critics at the Doc NYC festival. “What we wanted to avoid is turning this into some sort of Lexus commercial,” he said, stressing that Lexus’ branding appears in less than a quarter of the film.

So far, it’s had six five-star reviews on Amazon which have praised it for being “fascinating”, “unique and visually stunning” and something which “raises some really interesting questions about craftsmanship and technology.”

Compare this to the ‘Jaguar: Going Electric’ which has been called out by some reviewers as a 54 minute sales pitch.

'It's not appropriate for every brand'

All this begs questions about how this kind of 'branded entertainment' brands are investing in should be signposted by Amazon, and whether it should be regulated by advertising watchdogs.

Fotinos denies that its film is an overt ad that should be labelled as such.

“When we talk about branded content it's become a byword for advertising. But there's another aspect that's looking at it consumer first, and trying to tell the story that's interesting to a consumer,” he continued. “We're in the story as it's relevant to us as a brand and we have a legitimate reason to be there.”

But the key word the marketer uses here is “consumers” (not viewers or audience as a documentary maker might). The difference being that at the end of this, Fotinos does need to show bosses that it will help sell vehicles.

Amazon will give it back little info on who watches it and what they do after. The metrics Lexus is using to gauge success are simply based on how many people are viewing the film and the “general sentiment towards it” on social media.

The Drum asked Lexus for the latest statistics on those metrics but was awaiting reply at the time of writing.

Matt Bamford-Bowes, strategist at The&Partnership – which managed the deal between with Lexus and Amazon for the Takumi documentary – said that more brands are considering Prime Video's power as a distribution tool for content coming from their marketing departments, but they have to tread carefully.

“The challenge for Amazon is making sure that the quality of content [from brands] is as good as the other content [on the platform]. That's important to Amazon, it needs to create customer value and it expects quality videos,” he said.

“I don't think it's appropriate for every brand. Brands can’t suddenly just realise that it exists and they can potentially make a bit of money from it and just put up a story about themselves. That's when you run into dangers. [Advertisers] have one shot at this sort of thing to gain credibility. If a platform or consumer knows something is an hour-long advert, they will not watch again.”

However, Bowes added that if it is successful – and his agency is still working out if this experiment with Lexus and Amazon has been – then it might open up new avenues for content marketing. Including investing in, and sponsoring, other types of creators where brands could then claim a percentage of the revenue generated.

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