top of page

Branded content is STILL a big player in the future of advertising … even during a pandemic

Let’s get this out of the way.

“These are unprecedented times … we’re all in this together … as we transition to the new normal …”

We have all heard these phrases used by marketers in an effort to bring us together during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even though these phrases started as a way to build a community around a shared experience, at this point, they have become more of a punchline.

Now that the shock of the past two months is starting to lift and it is time to start looking for marketing solutions for our advertisers, we need to focus on building a message that will help our clients tell their stories and begin actively creating effective communication points for local businesses.

But how do we help?

And when is the right time to communicate?

During times of crisis, it is crucial that advertising messages are authentic and showcase how businesses can help their customers, solve their problems, partner with them through the tough times. Branded content solutions check these boxes and position brands in the best possible light during the darkest hours. The best path forward during uncertainty is to look to the experts.

We discovered three facts that prove branded content will be the solution for many local businesses looking to inform, educate, and engage … and the right time is now.

Back in mid-March, before the world changed for all of us, Jared Merves from Wundervue and I presented to the crowd at Borrell Miami, the opportunities that were growing with branded content. The growth was significant. In fact, it was looking like the significance was heading towards $412 billion by 2021.

And just back in February, Technavio reported that the global content marketing market was expected to grow by $269.24 billion during 2020-2024, mostly due to increased use of social media.

But what about in our current coronavirus-focused world?

FACT 1 – Content sponsorships and content adjacencies are expected to grow.

According to IAB, local news organizations are creating unique offerings to help advertisers position themselves and their brands with content opportunities. These types of opportunities are perfectly matched with content marketing messages and are an enormous opportunity for local media organizations to build the right content options for advertisers who need to position themselves around, inside, and as a partner with quality content.

FACT 2 – Cause and mission-based advertising will rise.

Cause marketing platforms were an excellent and recommended strategy before COVID-19, and the benefits of launching a cause or mission-driven initiative have only been amplified by the current crisis.

During that same Miami meetings, we stressed the importance of building products that focus on how business help their communities, support the people in their cities, and focus on what is important to local businesses outside of selling goods and services.

We featured two solutions for auto dealers. These examples highlight the effectiveness of storytelling through video but also show a completely different strategy that embraces cause and mission-focused communication.


FWD>DFW is a forum for connection to critical issues impacting the Dallas-Fort Worth area (DFW) — and how people and businesses can make a difference. At its core, it is a cause-marketing platform of The Dallas Morning News used to share the impact and stories of other companies’ cause-marketing initiatives.

It’s about how to move FWD — together.

This platform uses the power of The Dallas Morning News to make a difference with the best tools they have: storytelling, audience, and relationships.

FWD>DFW started with four founding partners, providing content that educates, informs, and impacts North Texas. Today, they have 10 annual partners, an ongoing Facebook Live video series, and their audience continues to grow across the community and beyond.

FWD>DFW provides a customized, multi-year cause-related marketing (CRM) campaign for leading brands to leverage their corporate social responsibility (CSR) platforms across DFW through the power of The Dallas Morning News, and the greater digital marketplace.

We asked the team why other organizations should consider building a cause marketing initiative. The reason?

“The message behind a brand is more important now than ever, with 90 percent of consumers saying that they want companies to tell them how they are supporting causes and making a difference,” said Rachel Watkins, senior marketing manager for Belo + Company. “Consumers expect businesses to invest in their community and beyond, making civically minded and socially responsible companies the ideal partners for branded content.”


Our second automotive idea is one of the newest stories from the Creative Lab @McClatchy, built for Scott Clark Auto Group’s Driven Campaign. Driven to Dance is a touching tribute to the “A Chance to Dance” organization, shows how powerful a great story can be and how advertisers of all types can embrace this type of content marketing to position their company with causes in their community.

The heartfelt story called “Driven to Dance” was created as a 7-minute documentary with shorter social videos.

Eric Brandner, general manager of the Creative Lab @McClatchy, shares the initial strategy.

“This client – Scott Clark Auto Group in Charlotte – started doing storytelling a few years ago, but was originally focused on getting that transactional message into the end of every video,” he said. “After they got to know the style a bit and see what worked best for their corporate image, the team was able to create a series of 12 video features for them highlighting not stories that drove to transitions, but stories purely about people in Charlotte who are making a difference under the campaign title “Driven.” This extension of the original campaign also made its way into their advertising pre-roll rotation and even onto billboards along packed Charlotte highways.”

“Now, you might ask, why would a car dealer do something not transactional? And the answer is this really fits with how they do their business. They aren’t the tent sale market leaders or loud, masculine commercial alpha-advertisers,” he said. “They position themselves as the take-care-of-the-customer market leaders, and this is a natural extension of that brand.”

In both Dallas and Charlotte’s case – they built programs that supported the cause marketing efforts of local brands. In both cases, they worked with the marketing teams in these departments – not their typical advertising partners.

Both examples would be great solutions for many advertisers looking to showcase their efforts to help their communities during the pandemic and beyond.

FACT 3 – Momentum toward storytelling

Recently, The Washington Post announced a new strategy for brands and businesses, one that creates a product suite around “purpose-driven storytelling” and an extension of their news products. In an interview with The Drum, The Washington Post’s chief revenue officer Joy Robins explained.

“Demand for that has been accelerated significantly,” she said. “The combination of scale and trust creates the conditions for news organizations to be the ultimate place for brands. But they also need to navigate how they show up, and that is exactly what we are focused on guiding our partners through.”

The focus on storytelling as a communication method is growing because of its effectiveness when communicating complicated or longer form messages.

Jared Merves, founder of Wundervue, explains why branded content worked in the past, during the current crisis and will continue to work into the future as the advertising landscape changes.

“One of the most important elements of the branded content growth opportunity is that I believe it creates a unique and defensible position that you can use to grow revenue, relevance, and profit – and with that growth fund sustainable, local journalism.”



bottom of page