Luis Reyes: Is your live stream branded content truly organic or just a gimmick?

Advertising, Digital & Media

Luis Reyes develops work at the intersection of media and technology, shattering conventional notions of content and form. As an Executive Producer and Partner at LA-Based creative media company Butcher Bird Studios, he has expanded the definitions of interactive media, branded content, and audience engagement, spearheading work for brands such as Twitch, Netflix, Samsung, Mazda, Lenovo, Intel, and TYLT, among many others. Luis has also been a contributor to publications such as the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and Flaunt Magazine.

In a piece for AdHugger, Luis shared a little about how things are approached and done at Butcher Bird Studios.

Rethinking how we approach branded content

At Butcher Bird Studios, we have pioneered creative approaches to live stream branded content that has elevated companies such as Twitch, Netflix, Lenovo, State Farm, Samsung, Disney, Mazda, Volkswagen, Nexon, among many others. In the live stream milieu, we have produced myriad kinds of content, including narrative arcs, product reveals, sales shows, puzzle games, talk shows, and more. But no matter the project, we always start our process with a fundamental imperative: Is this organic?

The secret to answering this question is–of course–to recognize that audiences are savvy. They are not sitting back and receiving your message passively; they are in active dialogue with you. So you or key members of your team, have to be as engaged in the content as you expect the audience to be. So how do you do that?

CURIOSITY

An organic branded experience does not have to avoid gimmicks entirely. Gimmicks themselves can be a lot of fun: a puzzle, an unveiling, a mystery. But let YOUR curiosity drive the experience. Ask yourself if YOU are excited about what is going to happen, what is going to be learned, what is the answer to the mystery, etc.

Curiosity can be simple, you don’t have to overthink it. For a Disney sales activation in October of 2019 we (as a team) were ourselves curious about what new Star Wars toys were coming out. For a Samsung activation in September of 2021 we, too, wanted to help streamers solve a series of complex puzzles to unlock the new Samsung Galaxy. For a Miller Lite activation to celebrate International Women’s Day, we wanted to hear what four prominent female streamers had to say about their experiences on a male-dominated platform.

By doing this–by really delving into your own curiosity–you avoid presupposing the audience response, which is poison for brand content. Don’t worry about what the audience response SHOULD be. Don’t try to layer the content with a deluge of messaging points that the audience is NOT curious about. Just make sure that YOU care.

Every day we are all witness to branded content that has been crafted desperately to elicit a target feeling, or self-consciously align with a popular opinion, for the express purpose of shamelessly pelting you with marketing points. In fact, as a brand leader, it is hard NOT to pander to get attention, especially when you as brand content creators are often under the dual (and often contradictory) downward pressures of (A) getting eyeballs, and (B) pushing talking points.

But branded content MUST now be authentic, because audiences are better equipped to see right through pandering than ever before. So just make sure that YOU are curious. Following your own curiosity is organic; authoring an audience response is the real gimmick.

CONNECTION

The next step is to invite everyone to be actively curious with you, which involves providing a mechanism for agency that allows them to be a vital part of the experience. Basically, it means making your experience INTERACTIVE. This can be as simple as running polls and answering chat questions, or as complex as building out dynamic interactive features that allow your audience to unlock special content, or virtually explore a space. What you are ultimately doing is asking your audience to lean in and DO something.

The secret is to find ways in which the mechanism of interactivity resonates with the nature of your core curiosity. For instance, during an Amazon sponsored live stream promoting Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, we employed an extension in which chat could spam the feed with the hashtag #MichaelBJordan to fill a meter that would unlock–you guessed it–Michael B. Jordan himself. The audience was curious to see the movie star, and there was a mechanism there for them to be directly connected to making him appear. 

In October 2019, during a live stream horror experience we produced for Twitch, we brought up a heat map at certain moments that would allow chat to focus a PTZ camera on details within a mysterious living room, many of which revealed themselves as clues to the creepy mystery unfolding.

Going back to the Samsung activation described above, the only real mechanism for the audience here was the chat feed, BUT the puzzle itself gave them a substantial reason to populate the chat feed with answers. They were joining in, helping the streamer solve the puzzle, engaging the moment directly.  

Quick side note about the future: interactivity continues to grow more complex every day, solidifying the bridges between live stream, traditional media, social media, gaming, and beyond. As a brand, it is crucial to continually explore the ways in which your audiences can best interact with you and your content. Though this article focuses on live stream, interactivity pervades everything, and should be the spearhead for your branded content efforts. 

COMMUNITY

I know what you may be thinking: all of this still sounds a little gimmicky. But here I ask you to make the distinction between a gimmick that results in clickbait, and one that is designed to bring together a COMMUNITY.

This is one of the most exciting aspects of living in a connected world: real-time interaction with a vibrant and influential community to share our collective curiosities, which, incidentally, is why some of the most satisfying, organic content involves fandom— a community bound by mutual tastes and mutual curiosities.

Now how do you provide for THAT community? Well, (A) piqued their curiosity, and (B) you’ve given them an interactive way to connect to the experience… all that remains is that they LIKE being a part of it.

First up, bring in the chat MODERATORS, people specially trained to identify and eject destructive voices in the chat feed. Not only do they keep out the trolls, but they also encourage a positive chat tone by responding to questions, participating in the conversation, and representing your brand as an equal among your audience. Basically it’s YOUR voice in the chat feed. It is in this dialogue that you can be frank with your audience. You can acknowledge fair criticisms, and humbly vow to answer concerns, as well as celebrate the whole. Your brand essentially makes itself accessible as a genuine, organic presence. 

Community is something that forms organically over time, something you need to work at. But the work is well worth it. The more people want to be a part of your community, the stronger their opinion of your brand. To this end don’t look at each activation you initiate as an isolated piece of marketing, but a continuous process of bringing your community together.

As a parting thought here, Butcher Bird Studios specializes in live stream content, which is basically designed for interactive community, but even if your content is pre-produced and on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, or Tik Tok, still stay active in the comments discussions, inclusive of these comments in the creation of new content, diligent about linking content to each other, etc. Respect, listen to, and engage your community no matter what form it takes. 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

This approach challenges a fundamental advertising measure for success: how many people watched. Now, I am by no means saying that QUANTITY doesn’t matter. After all, do anything you need to do to get people to show up. What I posit here is that quality DOES matter. And in this context QUALITY means a rich, welcoming experience that is responsive and additive; so that when people DO show up they WANT to show up again and again. 

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