Brand Storytelling Gets a Rose from The Bachelor [And 2 More TV Partnership Examples]

Let’s play a game. Match the numbered brand with the lettered media property below.

(2) Ancestry
(3) Destination Cleveland

(A) The Bachelor
(B) The Crew
(C) Who Do You Think You Are?

I’ll wait ….

Do your answers match?

(1) NASCAR connects to (B) The Crew.

(2) Ancestry connects to (C) Who Do You Think You Are?

(3) Destination Cleveland connects to (A) The Bachelor.

Each of these brands turned native advertising on its head – taking on roles in the stories being told by these television shows. And it’s not product placement, their brands propel the stories.

Brands are taking on new roles in stories told by TV shows, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. #nativeadvertising #storytelling Click To Tweet

Let’s look at each relationship (then stick around for a bonus example of a brand that unknowingly became a player in the story of the U.K.’s two most famous stop-animation film stars).

The Bachelor dates Cleveland

I’m not a frequent viewer of The Bachelor, but I watched the two episodes that took place in Cleveland, Ohio, (where I live) this season. The Bachelor regularly visits towns when supported by local or state tourism bureaus. In fact, tourism bureaus have become a key player in The Bachelor franchise.

The episodes I watched feature traditional beauty shots and local vendor product placements (think a hotel, prime destinations, and restaurants). But The Bachelor isn’t about Cleveland. It’s about the drama between the bachelor and his suitors – women who vie for one-on-one dates in hopes they avoid the dreaded group date, and who want a rose at the end of the episode (so they get to stay) and eventually an on-air marriage proposal.

By design, Chris Harrison’s announcement of the trip to the contestants meets with the response local tourism officials expect ­– and want to change: “Why Cleveland?”

The partnership was designed to challenge that thinking, says Colette Jones, chief marketing officer of Destination Cleveland, the city’s tourism organization. The positive and lesser-known narrative of Cleveland could unfold to an audience of millions of Bachelor fans.

These Cleveland-centered episodes bring all the interpersonal drama viewers expect. But as those stories unfold, so do stories of Cleveland. The Bachelor Bowl (the group date in one of the episodes) features two former Cleveland Browns as coaches at FirstEnergy Stadium (where the NFL team plays). A one-on-one activity encompasses the bachelor and his date grabbing a bite at a pierogi cart, dancing a polka in Public Square, and riding in a Soap Box Derby car – elements of Cleveland’s desired narrative.

Destination Cleveland used @BachelorABC to improve the city’s tourism narrative, says Colette Jones of @TheCLE via @cmicontent. #nativeadvertising #storytelling Click To Tweet

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“While there was risk to the association between the brands, the potential for improved equity and perception change outweighed that risk,” Colette says.

The Destination Cleveland team provided The Bachelor producers with an overview of Cleveland from a tourism perspective as well as messaging that it hoped would be conveyed in the episode.

“While not all the brand elements and messaging made the final cut, we know the concerted effort to develop an understanding of our brand messaging strategy and who we are as a destination were essential to our success,” Colette says.

And Destination Cleveland didn’t let the show itself serve as a one-time marketing event. It continued the story by leveraging digital and media relations channels.

For example, the team published romance-related blog posts, including 15 Places for Marriage Proposals in CLE  and Romance Travel: CLE Trip Planner, on the day the first Cleveland episode of The Bachelor aired.

Then it promoted the content with The Bachelor tie-in on social media:

The Destination Cleveland team also is tying all the content to a bigger “Love, Cleveland” story being told across its digital channels this quarter.


NASCAR drives The Crew

Like Destination Cleveland, NASCAR has plenty of content topics. The global auto-racing sanctioning and operating body crafts its content on star drivers, competitive races, etc. (And it does it well – Evan Parker, then-NASCAR vice president of content, was a 2018 Content Marketer of the Year finalist.)

But NASCAR is taking its content marketing to the next level – becoming the setting for an upcoming Netflix series, The Crew. Kevin James stars as an old-school race team crew chief who butts heads with the team’s modern-minded owner who wants more high-tech thinking, according to TV Insider. The setup isn’t new (someone who doesn’t like change is living in a world where change is a requirement). The format isn’t new either (it’s a traditional multi-camera sitcom).

What is new is the role of the NASCAR brand – it’s an integral component of the story. And NASCAR leaders Matt Summers, managing director, entertainment marketing and content development; and Tim Clark, senior vice president and chief digital officer, serve as executive producers on this mainstream sitcom.

Samantha Thompson, vice president of development, Branded, at Remedy Television + Branded, explains, “The brand is the story rather than the storyteller itself, opening up an entirely new opportunity for viewership, and of course, brand affinity as well.”

With The Crew on @Netflix, @NASCAR is the story rather than the storyteller and can reach new audiences, says Stephanie Thompson of @RemedyTVBranded via @cmicontent. #brandedcontent #examples Click To Tweet

(Note: Samantha offers her perspective as a brand developer and is not involved in The Crew or in the following example.)


Ancestry plants TV roots

Ancestry built its business on connecting its customers to historical records for genealogical research. Over 30 years later, the company continues to connect families with their history (most frequently through its web-based membership site) and has added AncestryDNA, bringing genetic analysis to help customers learn their family history.

In 2010, Ancestry became involved in TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are, with executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky. Each episode follows a celebrity tracing their ancestral roots. During the journey, these famous faces follow the family tree created through to learn about a relative or identify the next point to their genealogical path.

Ancestry shows up in other series, too. Its DNA testing was the launch point for a multi-episode arc of CNN’s United Shades of America in which its host Kamau Bell traces his genealogy.

Last year, NBC launched A New Leaf, which uses Ancestry DNA testing to explore the family ties of non-celebrities. The show “teaches the importance of understanding their family history in order to make important decisions and enact positive changes in their lives,” according to A New Leaf’s site.

“The brand has truly taken advantage of the recent cultural elevation and interest in genealogy and helping to tell those stories,” says Samantha Thompson of Remedy Television + Branded. “Ancestry’s products are not just integrated into these shows – they’ve made themselves essential in order to move the narrative forward.”

.@Ancestry has truly taken advantage of the recent cultural elevation and interest in genealogy and helping to tell those stories,” says Samantha Thompson of @RemedyTVBranded via @cmicontent. #storytelling #examples Click To Tweet


Cheesy bonus

Illustrator Mark Armstrong says this topic of brand stories being told in shows rang a bell at the cheese factory for him.

Which cheese factory? Wensleydale, the favorite brand of Wallace in Wallace and Gromit, the popular U.K. stop-motion animated shorts and films.

As Mark explains, Wensleydale had nothing to do with the original storyline. As IMBD details, the ongoing storyline of Wallace’s love of cheese led series creator, Nick Park, to name Wallace’s favorite brand. He picked Wensleydale because he liked the name, dropping it into several animated shorts around 1995.

What he didn’t know was that making Wallace a fan of Wensleydale cheese would lead to the business’s survival. Facing financial struggles and an uncertain future, Wensleydale saw sales take off after it became part of Wallace’s story. Today, it’s a big success and even features Wallace and Gromit Yorkshire Wensleydale among its products.

Envision the possibilities

Letting others tell your brand’s narrative can open a wealth of opportunities – to grow brand awareness, to connect with new audiences, to raise your profile among your target audiences. But the key to success is being deliberate and taking advantage of all the related potential opportunities.

Destination Cleveland’s Colette Jones offers this sage advice:

Overall, it’s essential to be strategic in the opportunities you consider – from ensuring brand and audience alignment to understanding how the partner has incorporated other (similar) brands and how fans responded to those partnerships to determining if the opportunity lends itself to a broader integrated marketing effort.

Be strategic in #storytelling partnership opportunities, says Colette Jones of @TheCLE via @cmicontent. #nativeadvertising Click To Tweet

Who or what could tell your brand’s narrative within their larger story? Dream big and small – and share in the comments.

Want to visit the city that most recently gained attention through The Bachelor and that’s served as the backdrop for movies, including A Christmas Story and Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Want to grow your content marketing skills? You can do both at Content Marketing World this October. Register today. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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How to Get Valuable External Content Sources

To be seen as a valuable information resource – not a product-hawking brand – treat your content marketing like a media outlet.

The first step? Use more than your corporate in-house voices (i.e., the ones paid by your company) in your content.

Brands must use more than in-house voices to be a valuable info source for their audience, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Including new voices and experts entering the public arena can be very refreshing for the audience, Loes van Dokkum, content marketing consultant, said in a recent CMI Twitter Chat on the topic.

Ashley Ashbee, who operates a lead-focused communications firm, explained in the chat: “As a reader I like to see such credible sources instead of (brands) parroting ignorant influencers or faulty evidence.”

As a reader, I like to see credible sources instead of (brands) parroting ignorant influencers or faulty evidence, says @cartooninperson via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Third-party sources can elevate the conversation with multiple and diverse viewpoints, examples, or experiences. In turn, the audience is more likely to consume and engage with the content because they recognize the publishing brand’s goal as an information provider, not as a seller of products or services.

Let’s explore a few paths to inject relevant and helpful external sources into your articles, infographics, videos, podcasts, or any other kind of content:

  • Ask industry-, role-, or geographic-specific organizations.
  • Connect on interactive platforms.
  • Seek non-human sources.
  • Use HARO as a brand journalist.
  • Build a source network.

Ask industry-, role-, or geographic-specific groups and associations

Tens of thousands of professional and trade organizations exist in the United States alone. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) reports over 7,200 member organizations, and estimates show that the total number in the United States is more than 70,000. At least one of them likely connects to your content’s subject matter.

Interview an industry @ASAEcenter for third-party perspective, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

To find knowledgeable sources in these organizations, check out their websites to:

  • Identify senior leaders and their areas of specialty, then email or call the one most relevant to your content topic.
  • Review board members to see which companies they represent, and contact those who represent brands your audience will recognize.
  • Attend the organization’s in-person events to connect with potential sources. Go to the annual trade show, talk to some attendees to get a better understanding of their expertise. Ask them if you could reach out in the future when you’re creating content where their input would be helpful.


This article, from Dassault Systèmes’ The DELMIA Blog, includes an original interview with the president of Women in Manufacturing.


Connect on interactive platforms

Use your brand’s social channels to elicit input from your existing audience. This works well for reaction-focused or crowdsourced content because it lets you incorporate many voices in your piece – and you can do it quickly. (Don’t forget to mention in your social post that you may use their responses in an upcoming article.)

But don’t limit your outreach to your social channels:

  • Tag your request for sources using relevant hashtags.
  • Post to topic-related LinkedIn or Facebook groups.
  • Use crowdsource sites like Quora and Reddit to identify contributors to posts about your topic, industry, or content angle. Reach out to them individually.


I quoted this tweet from Loes earlier in this article.

TIP: If social sources aren’t responding to a direct request to be quoted, ask for their permission to include their comment in your content.

Seek non-human sources

Industry and professional organizations as well as brands also can be a great resource for research, white papers, and other media coverage. If you can’t get to the right person to interview, the next best thing may be a blog or other media coverage quoting that person – just make sure to cite and link to the original source.

Can’t get the person for an interview? Quote their comments from other coverage, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet


Achinta Mitra, founder and president of Tiecas Inc., wrote this first-person reaction post on the Industrial Manufacturing Today blog based on CMI’s Manufacturing Content Marketing report (a third-party source):


Be a brand journalist on HARO

Cision’s Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is used by the marketing communication/PR world to connect the brand’s experts with media. But content marketers can use it too – taking the journalist’s role to seek sources for their content. And it’s free.

Use @helpareporter to seek sources for your #content, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

TIP: Make sure your brand journalism fits within the detailed HARO guidelines.

Here’s how HARO works: Content creators (journalists) submit queries about what they’re seeking and spell out any requirements responders need to know. Take a look at this query I did a couple of years ago. In the query box, I detail the type of responder needed (marketers) and the content I need them to share. Then in the requirements box, I share the must-haves. In this case, I asked for basic identifying data.

TIP: Be specific and succinct in your query. Include what you need AND what you don’t need. “Query: Seeking phone interview with trucking industry expert on impact of fuel prices. Already have sufficient responses from fuel brands or individual truck drivers.”

HARO compiles those requests and sends them by email (three times a day) to its database of over 850,000 sources. The email separates the requests into categories, from business and industry to lifestyle and fitness. It also has a general category. Interested sources then respond with pitches to the journalist through the HARO direct email system.

You’ll receive an email each time someone responds, but you also can use the My Queries section at to scroll through all the responses to your query.

Go through the responses with a discerning eye. Delete those that don’t meet your needs. Then go through to see who has the most surprising or interesting relevant responses. Use the submitted responses or follow up to interview those responders to generate that fresh content your audience wants.


Over 90 people responded to my query about tips to get out of a creative slump. I picked 27 of them to create this article:

Build a source network

As you cultivate new sources for your content, make sure to document their participation and contact information. Create a master spreadsheet for your team. Include the person’s name, title, organization, contact information, social handles, and note their areas of specialties. Then reach out to them when you want their input on the content being created.

As you cultivate new sources for your #content, make sure to document their participation and contact information, says @AnnGynn via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Also add a column for links to content where your company included that source. That way your content team isn’t using the same source over and over. (It’s really tempting to reach out too frequently to a great source you can depend on.)

There’s no single best way to incorporate external sources into your content marketing. Whether you connect more with your industry trade group, look for existing external references, use online communities, or put a query out to HARO’s database, you’ll create more credible content to position your company as a go-to media brand for your audience.

How do you develop your source network? Please share in the comments.

Grow your source database at Content Marketing World this October. Connect with your fellow marketers working at brands that could have valuable sources for your content. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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