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Let the influencers film themselves eating cake

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People are hungry, or maybe just greedy. That is why we end up with those wonderful commercials from places like M&S that are full of abstract food images set to an improv jazz score. Damn they look good, but I still don’t know what I’d actually be tasting when I buy the product.

However, a talented influencer can bring to life every flavour while engaging their viewers with their reactions and personality. This is why influencer marketing is one of the best strategies for food and drink: it provides trusted human interaction rather than abstraction. We’ll be looking at several examples to see what lessons can be learned.

Entertainment or ‘how to...’?

Good food and drink content divides into two camps: ‘how tos’ and entertainment. Are you positioned as a lifestyle brand, or as a practical one? Not all food and drink content has to feature eating and imbibing.

Coca-Cola and McDonald’s both launched major YouTube entertainment channels within the past year. Both adopted a broadcast approach, the focus being the content not the products. This is a huge challenge because instead of paying for eyeballs via an ad break or a pre-roll, you have to win the crowd.

CokeTV was launched in April 2016. It’s UK and Ireland channel is hosted by major YouTube stars Dodie Clark and Manny Br own, and already boasts just shy of 50,000 subscribers. In contrast, McDonald’s Channel Us, hosted by OIi White and Hazel Hayes, was at just over 10,000 subscribers when the plug was pulled after a year. Both channels have hosts with similar online followings and some serious investment. Why such a stark contrast in performance?

CokeTV went for a classic ‘friends having fun’ vibe, perfectly in sync both with its hosts usual videos and their positioning across all media. The brand leveraged its best asset – the hosts’ screen presence – to the max. They are the focus of all episodes, essentially giving viewers more of what they want. This is squarely in the entertainment category, with episodes featuring goofy challenges with celebrities and action-packed days out.

McDonald’s, in contrast, went for a career challenge style focused on a different participant each video. The creative had potential, with its empowerment ideals and community building. However, the execution leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t have the pace or tension that should be inherent in time-based challenges, and the channel hosts make such minor appearances as to be almost cameos. On a platform awash with entertaining content, it simply wasn’t entertaining enough.

While entertainment content tends to spike early, ‘how tos’ stay relevant long after. RedPill partnered with Dave Hax to produce a bacon rose ‘how to’ for Danepak. The 285,000 view KPI was reached within a week, but the views continued to climb through shares, suggested content and search, adding almost 150,000 new views in four months. And we’ll surely see another spike next Valentine’s Day.

Facebook or YouTube?

When it comes to branded video, only two social platforms are worth the investment. YouTube has become the new food and drink TV, full of hundreds of in-depth channels, like Sorted Foods, Tipsy Bartender, and Nerdy Nummies. These videos tend to have a long run time, and heavily feature their hosts’ banter, providing both useful insights and entertainment. But with 90% of social shares coming from Facebook, many food and drink brands have adopted the platform for snappy ‘how tos’. Pages like Tasty have huge success delivering bite-sized videos with simple and direct recipes that can be followed without sound. Here the content itself needs to shine – the recipe needs to be appealing and simple to follow. The Food Bible’s Marmite steak is a good example of this, achieving around 4.5m views and 11,000 engagements.

Your channel or mine?

This largely depends on whether your strategy is set for owned media, namely channel growth. This was the position with CokeTV. The episodes aren’t found on the influencers’ channels, they were exclusive to Coke. This of course requires maintenance and promotion if you’re building a channel from scratch. Whereas, if your objective is getting your product in front of engaged audiences, the best strategy would be to partner with relevant influencers to reach their readymade audience organically.

Of course, there’s always the option to do both, budget permitting. Hellman’s Mayonnaise partnered with DJ BBQ for a series about bringing barbecue to the uninitiated. The videos were hosted on both the brand channel and DJ BBQ’s. On Hellman’s channel, total views were 443,000, 581 likes and 69 comments (view:engagement 682:1), largely due to TrueView promotion. On DJ BBQ’s channel, views were 58,000, with 2,183 likes and 274 comments from his organic fan base (view:engagement 24:1). The view to engagement ratios speak volumes to the quality of the views on each channel. Which channel’s audience is more likely to go and buy the product? Those that can’t wait to hit the skip but ton or those that ask for the recipes in the comments?

To boost or not to boost?

There are several reasons why amplifying influencer content makes sense. Firstly, it allows the brand to reach beyond the influencer’s core audience. Secondly, it frees the brand from being beholden to the influencers with the largest audience. Brands are constantly torn between the ‘right ’ influencer and the one with the big numbers. By using an amplification strategy, you can choose the one that actually makes sense. Thirdly, it means you can promote the content cross platform.

Not all distribution strategies are created equal however. Hellman’s TrueView approach added huge views, but you can see by the view to engagement rate that most of these viewers were passive.

With the right content and a true native distribution strategy, you will earn media. For this to happen in a significant way, it helps if the content is newsworthy.

For Bacardí Carta Fuego, we brought Arsenal star Ian Wright out of retirement to play ‘tekkers’ with YouTube’s F2Freestylers to reach the target male audience. It was hosted natively on both Football Daily’s YouTube channel and Unilad’s Facebook page and supported by a publisher outreach plan. The sporting world went wild, the content earning coverage from the Sport Bible, the Mirror and the Evening Standard among others. The campaign reached 100 million, gaining 7.7m views with 490,000 engagements.

This article was originally published in The Drum Network Does...Food and Drink supplement on 8 December.

Matthew Davies is the art director at branded content and influencer agency RedPill.