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Why Storytelling Needs to Be at the Heart of Your Online Video Strategy

Why Storytelling Needs to Be at the Heart of Your Online Video Strategy

One of the must-attend sessions at Advertising Week this year was “Storytelling Is Dead.” It was billed as a seminar by Raja Rajamannar, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Mastercard, but I was expecting a wake. Hey, storytelling has been very, very good for me so, I wasn’t really looking forward to hearing some guy from a credit card company tell me that “Mastercard believes we need to stop being great storytellers.” But, boy, was I wrong.

How To Break Through to Your Customers

Rajamannar defines “storytelling” as talking at consumers. And, since the “Mad Men” era, brands have used advertising to broadcast their stories at a large audience of consumers. But, it’s stopped working. He told the audience of advertisers in the Liberty Theatre, “Latest reports state that there are over 600 million devices running ad block software, and the message from consumers is clear: Stop interrupting me – I don’t want to see your ads. At the same time, consumers are constantly connected and literally have the power to make or break a brand at their fingertips. So how do you break through and engage with consumers?”

Good question. And Rajamannar had a good answer. He said, “Against the digital transformation landscape and changing consumer behavior, Mastercard believes … it is time to put consumers at the center of our efforts; it’s time to be great story-makers.

Time out. Aren’t “story-makers” the same Mad Men (and women) that we used to call “storytellers”?  Doesn’t Mastercard still have McCann-Erickson as its agency of record? Is this just a new variation on “the King is dead; long live the King” expression that the British have been using for centuries?

No, this is a much bigger idea. Rajamannar said “story-making” is the combination of “art, science, and necessity” that was developed as a response to a “society where the pace of technology and information exchange only continues to speed up; and where consumers only allow brands a few mere moments to make or break a relationship.”

Consumers Value Experiences Over Things

Rajamannar explained, “Studies show and retail sales data supports that today, consumers value experiences over things. Mastercard’s Priceless campaign – now in its 20th year – was founded on the insight that experiences matter more than things, but the way it is executed today is much different. Mastercard has evolved its Priceless strategy from a single traditional advertising campaign to a holistic experiential-led marketing platform.” Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What the heck is a holistic experiential-led marketing platform?” Here’s Rajamannar’s definition: “Mastercard is transforming into an experiential brand by doing 3 things:

  1. Focusing on consumers’ passions,
  2. Building experiential platforms.
  3. Creating products/technologies that change lives for the better.

“We’ve moved our brand promise from being the ‘best way to pay’ to ‘connecting people to Priceless possibilities.’” That’s a big idea.

Here’s the backstory: About four years ago, Mastercard developed a strategic framework – called “Marketing 4.0” – which recognized just how important “connections” had become and realized that the Priceless campaign should not be limited to traditional advertising.

Rajamannar explained, “Over the years, marketers have used various techniques to relate with consumers. Marketing 1.0 was the era of logic/rational side of the brain and very focused on products’ features and benefits. In that era, brands underscored messaging like ‘new,’ ‘improved,’ and ‘best seller’ – brands like Dyson did this product-focused marketing well. In Marketing 2.0, the era of emotion, we saw brands like Coca-Cola appealing to emotions with their ‘open happiness’ campaign, and of course our own Priceless campaign, which was founded in the insight that ‘experiences matter more than things.’ Amazon stands out in the era of Marketing 3.0, where extensive data and intensive data analytics drive marketing. And now in Marketing 4.0 – it is the new era of connections. We view this as the era of connecting people to what truly matters to them. Simply put, this is because the world has changed and arguably people do not want brands to waste their time or attention.”

However, this strategic insight had consequences. Rajamannar said, “To win with today’s consumer, we need to go way beyond showing priceless experiences in commercials, to giving our cardholders the tools to create their own. We need to move from ‘simply’ observing priceless moments to enabling priceless experiences.” Rajamannar also shared several stories – pun intended – that illustrate how Mastercard’s efforts are energizing its brand and driving its business.

A Masterclass in Storytelling from Mastercard 

Uwe Bindel is no ordinary soccer fan. He has gone to jaw-dropping lengths to support his beloved FC Bayern Münich: from defying the Stasi as a teenager in communist East Berlin, to choosing a UEFA Champions League match over his 20th wedding anniversary holiday.

Uwe believed he was taking part in a documentary on “Über-fans,” but little did he know he was about to be surprised by his idol, Bayern Munich midfield legend and Germany’s most capped player of all time Lothar Matthäus. To celebrate their sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League in advance of the 2015 Final in Berlin, MasterCard arranged this Priceless Surprise to thank the passion of football fans … but also the fans behind those fans.

Or, see what happened when Pharrell Williams surprised his fan Queen, while she was running a playgroup.

And, to celebrate The BRIT Awards 2016, Mark Ronson and MasterCard brought together 6 fans who had previously covered Uptown Funk online ­‐ Anna Shields & Blair Crichton, The Ayoub Sisters, Ross Campbell and John Atkins ­‐ to create a brand new cover, and share their Priceless Surprise with Ronson himself.

Americans are familiar with Mastercard’s Stand Up To Cancer program. It’s one of several Priceless Causes that the brand supports. For example, here’s what the Priceless Causes program has done for the World Food Program.

Also, Priceless Cities is a global MasterCard program designed to enable MasterCard cardholders to live unique experiences and receive benefits that add value to their lives. For example, you can experience the magic of New York City on a night like no other. From The Modern, to Jimmy and Center Bar, enjoy wonderful food paired against the backdrop of the dramatic cityscape.

Mastercard: Storytelling and Sponsored Videos

According to Tubular’s breakthrough DealMaker software , sponsored videos are also part of Mastercard’s “holistic experiential-led marketing platform.” The brand has 76 partners that have made 798 videos, which have a total of 45.5 million views and over 1.3 million engagements. For example, “How far would you go?” was uploaded to UEFA Champion League’s Facebook page on April 19, 2017. It currently has 2.4 million views and 15,000 engagements.

Now, that’s taking story-making to a level that traditional storytellers only reach once in a blue moon. It’s the difference between creating a priceless experience for your customers that they want to share with their friends, family, and colleagues and merely telling a story – even one with emotion – about the features and benefits of your products or services. That’s a very big idea.

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Superheroes and Nostalgia Drive Warner Bros. Social Video Strategy

Superheroes and Nostalgia Drive Warner Bros. Social Video Strategy

Since 1923, Warner Bros. has been one of the leading entertainment brands in the film and television industries. Founded by four brothers whose family had emigrated to Canada from present-day Poland, Warner Bros. is known for contributing some of the most famous entertainment titles to date, such as the Looney Tunes animations and characters and the World War II romantic classic Casablanca. The company was originally named Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. but now operates under the title Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Regardless of what it’s called, the company not only knows its way around the silver screen, but around the small, social one, as well.

Across the main social video platforms, all Warner Bros.’ properties boast more than 200 million followers and subscribers. These fans routinely visit the brand’s social video accounts for content related to their favorite franchises, like Harry Potter, The Lego Movie, and anything having to do with Superman, Batman, and other DC Comics characters (more on that in a bit). We took a deep dive into some of the top-level Warner Bros. film and entertainment-related social accounts to see how the company operates its online video strategies as well as what content performs best on various platforms. Here’s what we found:

Warner Bros. Has a Sweet Spot with Comic Book Content

Warner Bros. is closely tied to its comic book property DC Comics, which recently contributed the blockbuster hit Wonder Woman to Warner Bros.’ summer repertoire. As of now, the Gal Gadot-starring flick has pulled in just over $407 million in the U.S. alone, a good $77 million more than DC’s 2016 Batman v Superman. Clips based on Wonder Woman didn’t perform so shabbily, either, with official trailers and teasers for the film pulling in millions of views each.

But it’s not Wonder Woman videos which have landed in the top ten spots on official Warner Bros.’ social video channels. Instead, that distinction belongs to some of the Amazonian warrior’s fellow counterparts in the DC universe (despite some of their films performing less favorably than hers). Five out of the top ten clips, in fact, relate to either Batman, Superman, or the gang of ruffians from the Suicide Squad franchise.

The Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad films were highly anticipated in their own ways over the last few years, so it’s unsurprising videos related to these flicks are some of the most popular Warner Bros. content to date. For example, the first official trailer for Suicide Squad, posted on January 20 of 2016, has garnered over 82.7 million views to date, as well as a favorable 30-day average engagement rate (ER30) of 1.2x and an average 30-day view count (V30) of 38.9 million. The trailer currently holds the third position of most-watched videos across all Warner Bros. social accounts.

While the trailer for Suicide Squad was certainly impressive in terms of views and ER30, fans of comic book content watched the film’s first-look teaser even more. That clip, released at Comic-Con in 2015, generated an impressive 48.1 million V30. The video with the next-highest V30 was the 2015 Comic-Con trailer for Batman v Superman, at 42.7 million. This teaser also claims the title of most-commented video of all time for Warner Bros. Pictures with just over 98k comments on YouTube alone.

Ed Sheeran Contributes His Talents for Warner Bros.’ Most-Watched Video of All Time

At this point, it’s obvious Warner Bros. is closely linked to DC Comics. In many cases, the two can almost be considered inseparable. However, the entertainment company’s most-watched video of all time actually stems from another well-loved franchise which has more to do with hobbits, elves, and dragons than it has to do with flying men, vigilante superheroes, and Amazonian warriors.

The clip in question is the music video “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran (whose recent album release helped land him top positions on the leaderboards for a few months running earlier this year). The song was created for the Warner Bros.-distributed film The Hobbit, and the combination of the wildly popular British singer-songwriter and one of the most beloved book and film franchises of all time ensured the clip’s long-term success. The music video claims almost 85.2 million views to date.

“I See Fire” also hit home with viewers around the world, as the clip generated great engagement rates across various social platforms. On YouTube, the Sheeran-led song saw 590k total engagements, while on Facebook, the video pulled in 218k engagements in the form of likes, shares, and comments.

Don’t Forget the Cat and Mouse Duo of Tom & Jerry

When analyzing most of the top-level properties of Warner Bros., including some of its home entertainment division and television outlets, we discovered another interesting viewing preference of the company’s audiences. Years ago, viewers turned their attention to the old cartoon Tom & Jerry.

Originally launching as a series of short films in 1940, Tom & Jerry has become one of the most well-recognized animation brands in the entire world. In 2006, Warner Bros. created a new series based on the cat-and-mouse duo which is always battling each other for superiority through slapstick humor. Now, three of the top ten clips on Warner. Bros. social accounts stem from Tom & Jerry content.

The second most-popular video of all time, for example, is a March 2010 snippet from season one of Warner Bros. Tom & Jerry Tales. This video currently boasts 83.3 million total views, roughly 2 million short of Sheeran’s “I See Fire” music video. Additionally, spots #8 and #9 on the top ten Warner Bros. videos belong to Tom & Jerry clips, too.

Much like Warner Bros.’s #1 Hobbit-related video, the nostalgia of the Tom & Jerry franchise is likely a contributor to these clips’ success. When these videos were published to YouTube in 2010 and 2013, other platforms weren’t the big video destinations they are today, and both Gen X-ers and millennials who grew up with Saturday morning cartoons were already familiar with the Tom & Jerry label. Therefore, it only made sense for Warner Bros. to distribute these clips on YouTube. Speaking of which…

YouTube Is the Platform of Choice for Warner Bros. Fans

While publishers around the globe have flocked to Facebook for its promise of massive audience reach, some have found their fans still want to spend time on YouTube with their content, and might even prefer to watch videos on that platform first and foremost. The U.S.-bsed Warner Bros. Pictures YouTube channel, for example, appears to be one of these brands, as the company boasts a large following of 4.4 million on that platform alone, accounting for 37% of Warner Bros. Pictures’ total social reach. And if you haven’t already noticed from the embeds in this article, all of the top ten videos across Warner Bros. social accounts from around the world are YouTube videos.

Here’s some more Tubular data showing the popularity of Warner Bros. Pictures content on YouTube

  • 105 million total video views in July 2017, roughly 96% of all views on Warner Bros. content for the month
  • 3 billion total views since the channel’s inception
  • 2642 videos uploaded to Warner Bros. Pictures YouTube channel as of this writing
  • 1.1 million average views per video
  • 35.6% of YouTube audience hails from the United States
  • 88.3% of total YouTube subscribers are male, with 42.5% of them aged 18-24

These stats can almost be replicated across all of Warner Bros.’ social video accounts. Even if the company has more followers on other social sites, the majority of its views still stem from YouTube. The Warner Bros. Entertainment account, for example, claims 62% of its social reach on Facebook, but still 96% of the company’s nearly 8.7 million July 2017 views came from YouTube.

The success of Warner Bros. on YouTube could be attributed to a number of factors, but the most likely cause is that film aficionados have been defaulting to YouTube for years when it comes to watching movie trailers and teasers. That habit can be hard for any other platform to break when YouTube is ingrained in fans’ viewing behaviors. Instead of fighting this situation, however, and trying to push similar content onto other platforms, Warner Bros. has embraced what format works best for its company on each social site, knowing YouTube is where its audience will go when it comes to watching 2- to 5-minute clips surrounding franchises its viewers love.


Warner Bros. Entertainment is a prime example of a brand which knows exactly what it stands for (entertaining viewers through movies and television) and serves that type of content exactly where its audience wants it (predominantly through YouTube). While other movie studios and TV networks have found success releasing small samples of video content on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, Warner Bros. has deliberately stuck with YouTube, supplementing that platform strategy with videos spread across other sites. Unless something drastic happens, we suspect Warner Bros. to have continued success as a YouTube publisher for years to come.

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