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The Influencers

Wasted Potential: Forcing Influencers Into Branded Content Formats

Vox Creative's Kamran Draeger on this year's E3 show and the wins and misses in casting the right talent

Wasted Potential: Forcing Influencers Into Branded Content Formats

It’s been a year since Jesse Wellens had his abysmal performance at E3 2017; since then we’ve seen companies both learn from such mistakes, and unknowingly continue to misuse one of the industries biggest new strategies — influencer marketing. 

Too often, companies think of digital influencers as a supplement to an existing strategy, failing to recognise why they are relevant in the first place. With the conclusion of this week’s E3 2018, it’s time to look back at what brands and marketers have learned from Wellens’ presentation, but also why his potential as an influencer was completely wasted.

What could have been an opportunity to bring life into a press conference culminated into one of the biggest moments of E3 2017 for all the wrong reasons. Awkward stage transitions, a poor delivery of lines and outright moments of silence made for a cocktail of secondhand embarrassment. The key ingredients? A series of technical difficulties and lack of public speaking experience.

Fast forward to 2018 during Ubisoft’s press conference where Elijah Wood gave a presentation on Transference during which he was given the wrong lines on his teleprompter. 

What could have been a crash and burn became a quick hiccup that was forgiven with a smile. Does this mean that Wood is simply more talented and the better person to cast? Not quite. It means that he was the right talent to consider for an onstage performance. As an actor, Wood is familiar with presenting on stage and improvising lines when things go wrong. On the other hand, what does Wellens do? Make vlogs in a controlled environment! You can check out his full channel, but his response video to the flub alone already demonstrates how he would have been able to make amazing content, if given the freedom to do what he does and excels at best.

When hiring influencers, consider their style first. 

What EA did not realize when casting Wellens is the reason for his popularity in the first place. He has a strong following on YouTube that is built on his honest, from-the-gut opinions, host-to-audience video format. If you’re going to hire someone with this kind of expertise, you have to consider how their organic style and POV can translate into your branded content, not the other way around. Instead of a live performance, Wellens could have done a dev-diary style vlog where he walks around EA’s studios and interviews their teams. This could have played onstage during E3, and he could have natively released it on his own channels. If EA had done this, Wellens’ stage presentation would have had the element of risk removed and he would have been able to leverage his organic following.

Looking at this past week’s E3 2018 again, brands seemed to have learned from previous mistakes. This year, we saw relevant talent that thrived during their on stage performances, such as Elijah Wood, or Joseph Gordon Levitt at Ubisoft. But that doesn’t mean that influencers were forgotten; instead we still saw some great executions where digital talent made sense. A great example was Teo’s part of Hitman 2’s live demo which WB Games orchestrated. The publisher gave a YouTuber who plays video games and records vlogs for a living the chance to create a vlog about his trip and play the game on stream. They identified the content they wanted to create and casted talent accordingly. WB even gave Teo enough creative freedom to title his vlog “I’ve already reached MAXIMUM CRINGE” (capitalisation courtesy of Teo.)

I’m not trying to say that every actor needs to read lines, and that every digital influencer should be creating vlogs and “let’s plays,” but when casting influencers, brands need to think more critically as to what their talent’s strengths are, what their value is, and how to best put their expertise to use.

Kamran Draeger is creative strategist at Vox Creative (Vox Media’s branded content practice)

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Genre: Strategy/Insight