Spark and NZME aim to help out the little guys in latest multimedia branded content project

In today’s multi-channel climate, brands need to be very shrewd about how they get through to their audience. Traditional advertising just ain’t cutting as much mustard as it once did, particularly with the young’uns. Spark has recognised this, and following on from its last collaboration with NZME, which focused on what life might be like in 2025, it’s again enlisted the publisher to bring a second piece of content marketing to life, this time targeted at small business owners. 

The current collaboration between Spark and NZME once again sees the telco making use of the publisher’s branded content lab, CreateMe.

The feature article is about helping small businesses thrive in New Zealand and it includes video that auto-plays when scrolled onto, large, screen-dominating images with text that hovers over them when scrolling past, and a test on ‘where your worries lie’.

The marketing motive is to get small business owners to find aid in Spark’s digital services.

Included in the piece are interviews with business owners from different professions and walks of life: an IT specialist, a dance teacher, a trucker and an electrician.

It took around six weeks to create the piece from the initial concept to launch day, says NZME general manager group content marketing Dallas Gurney.

“We’re getting faster! We created it all in house using the CreateMe team, with the exception of the writer Justin Brown, who we commissioned especially for this piece. We’re all very proud of it.”

Gurney describes the piece as a multi-media feast on the perils of owning a small business, based around the question ‘Is your business running you?’

“A number of small business owners share their stories and tips on how to cope with the many challenges they face and how they overcame them,” he says.

“The focus of this NZME and Spark feature is on supporting Kiwi businesses to thrive while living a healthy and balanced life. The piece also examines tech solutions that could help business owners take back control of their business and achieve a more sustainable work-life balance.”

He says NZME’s last piece of content for Spark went really well.

“Without going into numbers for commercial reasons, it was incredibly successful. Not just in audience, but the engagement was at another level – numbers we hadn’t seen before,” he says. “It proved to us people were willing to spend time digesting longer-form branded content, if it was really good content.”

He says more than a third of the audience made it to the end of the last piece.

“They were there for almost five and a half minutes on average. Five and a half minutes! That’s a digital decade.”

Gurney says the piece will feature on NZ Herald’s website on its “premium native homepage position” almost at the top of the page, and will stay there right through Easter weekend.

“There is a full social plan behind the launch too,” he says.

So, were there any beautiful multimedia articles that inspired the new piece for Spark?

“We do get inspired by branded content teams abroad who come up with awesome creative ideas, but at the same time, we believe we’re good enough for them to be inspired by some of our work too.  That’s our aim – to be the world’s best at content marketing. Why not?”

He says so far the feedback has been great.

“Everyone who has seen the work loves it. The great thing about working with Spark is they allow you freedom as a content creator. They trust you to do a good job. It’s incredibly empowering and I think it shows in the finished work.”

Gurney also confirms this won’t be the last work for Spark.

“We love working with Spark, they were the launch partner for our brand feature and we hope to be doing more with them.”

Spark’s brand position is around enhancing the potential of New Zealand through technology and its goal is to become a digital services company, rather than just being a series of dumb pipes. When we spoke with Spark chief marketing officer Clive Ormerod about the last project, which also involved James Hurman’s Previously Unavailable, he said it was a ‘North Star’ for the company and admitted that it had to change tack if it wanted to stay relevant.

“As a company we’re pushing and challenging ourselves internally about what the future can look like for New Zealand and our customers,” he said.

He also said it’s not about celebrating technology for technology’s sake, it’s about showing how technology can make life easier, which is also expressed in the current piece.

Branded content still has its sceptics, with some feeling it poses a threat to editorial independence (added to that, the vast majority of it goes unnoticed). Others think when it’s done well it can be a win-win-win for publishers, brands and audiences alike and is a way to keep publishers afloat as the rivers of ad-funded gold run dry. And more and more we’re seeing some impressive pieces surfacing. The overseas example that is often used is a long-form piece by the New York Times, which was a paid post to promote the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

The piece was about female inmates and included extensive research and reporting and was beautifully constructed, complete with infographics, video and audio clips all synchronised to tell a rich story.

There are several other examples, and many publishers are proving the marriage between sponsored content and editorial can be consummated without too much compromise. With Gurney’s mention of the promising results of its last work for Spark, the content lab will presumably remain quite busy. 

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