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The CYA (cover your assets) guide to paid social: Q&A with creative production experts

by | Oct 5, 2023 | Marketing, Public Relations

Ever since social and streaming time surpassed TV viewing in recent years, brands have been trying to shift more of their attention to paid social to achieve marketing objectives. Even more recently, there’s been a social media arms race as platforms stockpile different ad formats to stay relevant and push innovation and engagement. As a result, brands are facing the most complex advertising landscape across social media ever.   

Making sense of this rapidly evolving landscape can prove to be a daunting task for social media marketers, which is why creative production agency Newfangled Studios is stepping in to offer their advice. Teaming up to tackle the nuances of paid social, address the subject of “cutdowns” and suggest proactive solutions to “survive the skip” is creative director Cory Fanjoy and senior account director Ale Phares offer their expert insights in this Q&A to help brands with paid social.

What are the most common pain points that you’re seeing from brands who are trying to produce effective paid social campaigns?

Phares: Working with lots of different clients, we see lots of different pain points, but the most common one we see is the client who may not have their media plan solidified yet—lots of variables could be taking place behind the scenes; But from a production standpoint the show must go on. So we use our platform expertise to make sure we have them covered. 

It is often said that a ‘cutdown’ of premium content isn’t best practice for paid social campaigns. Can you explain how you define a ‘cutdown’ and why you don’t think it typically performs well on social media

Fanjoy: A cutdown refers to taking a piece of creative that has been made for a traditional platform, like a big glossy 30’ television ad, and editing it down to 10’ or 15’ depending on the platform. When it comes to cutdowns, there are two sides to consider: the strategic side and the very big creative side.  

It’s super important for advertisers and brands to consider the environment—where is their audience going to be consuming their content? If you’re making a big glossy commercial, those are traditionally for people who are at home, comfortable on their couch. You’re not speaking to the same audience on social media, this audience, for example, may be looking at their phone for five seconds on a subway. Brands need to be considerate of the different places you will be reaching audiences so you don’t have a mismatch of premium content designed for an audience that you’re never truly reaching on social media. 

So if cutdowns are not working, is there a better way to use all the premium content captured during your shoot?

Phares: We encourage clients to ask themselves the question, “Does premium content belong in this space?” Because if it doesn’t, that’s when it proves impossible to survive the skip. 

There are environments within these platforms that premium content can survive the skip and is actually expected from a consumer perspective. For example, if I’m going into YouTube to watch a polished video, it’s okay if I get served an ad before my video that’s more cinematic because it’s not disrupting my experience. I’m about to watch something of higher quality anyway.  

But then, there are places within platforms where premium content doesn’t work as well– and that’s why we’re there to decipher. 

Fanjoy: There’s still things you can do with cutdowns, even if it’s not as great as planning bespoke content for those channels, it’s still a good halfway. For example, you can easily take a premium piece of media and make it work on a Facebook feed. However, knowing the feed is a “sound-off” platform by nature, and the video isn’t going to have audio, simply adding titles and messaging up front will help get your key message across to the user who is scrolling quickly – even if it’s just for a quarter of a second.  

There’s a step beyond simply taking that content and cutting it down, too. You can take that content you already have and optimize it for your channels. This might mean making a few changes which aren’t a huge production lift and will realistically only take a production team a few hours. A lot of brands can utilize premium content and at least get something out of what they already have.  

What’s a common misperception about building creative for paid social campaigns?

Phares: The most common misperception from brands who are creating a social campaign is thinking there needs to be uniquely different ads for every deliverable in a media plan, which can sometimes include hundreds and seem daunting. To simplify this for our clients we use the term ‘format cousins’ to describe ad units that are very similar across platforms and then we create hero assets that can flex creatively across a variety of ad formats. 

Fanjoy: Our four creative categories to build hero assets are cinematic, user generated content (UGC), stills and interactive. Cinematic units are polished video creative, your traditional 30’ ad that you’d see on television or a pre-roll for YouTube. UGC is your lo-fi content which should look like something a user created, something that looks like it was shot on an iPhone, or intentionally planned to look like user-generated content. Stills refer to photography that will end up in print or in traditional banner ads. And finally, there is interactive content, which can range from a poll on an Instagram story to make it feel more native to that platform, to a totally bespoke AR filter game for a large activation.  

Can you explain more about the concepting process for the interactive approach?

Fanjoy: The interactive elements are probably the trickiest of the four. Some interactive content might be as simple as adding a poll or slider, or it could be gamifying an element to get the user to tap a screen to keep them engaged. The big struggle that advertisers need to overcome, and something that we spend a lot of time on when we’re concepting, is trying to figure out how to pair those interactive elements with the content that you’re making and then also with the messaging you’re trying to push for the campaign. 

We have to consider how to craft a filter that makes someone feel like a brand is, for example, fast and reliable. The other thing you need to consider is how does your content work with those interactive elements? For example, when you’re shooting the video, are you leaving room to insert an interactive element above the shot? Are you planning your photography so that you have that room for that CTA that’s going to be on the platform?  

These are all things that can be achieved with rigorous planning upfront, and doing your due diligence by storyboarding your live action shoots and making sure you have yourself covered on set. Before we actually shoot we make sure we’ve planned for where all of those things are across the platform: we know we will have to deal with a CTA button on every platform and on every platform it is going to be in a different place. 

Are there any platforms that lend themselves more towards one of the four creative approaches?

Phares: For sure. In recent years we have seen the boom of TikTok and the popularity of user generated, lo-fi content. Scrolling through the app, you can see it’s a place where creators of all sorts are thriving because anyone can go viral on TikTok. Everyday people are putting themselves out there with fun dances, voice overs, AR effects, quizzes, etc. It’s definitely one of the platforms where cinematic content does not thrive because of the nature of the environment and its swipeable design.  

What you see is lots of interactivity on TikTok, you see brands creating interactive elements like AR effects, dubs, etc. But, generally speaking, TikTok is one of the platforms that is more unique and I would say taking a more UGC, lo-fi or interactive approach is appropriate. 

From a production perspective, are there ways brands can shoot for all four approaches in an efficient way?

Fanjoy: When the budget allows, it is totally possible. For example, when we’re on set on a 10 hour shoot day we always try to have three different crews with us. One unit will be on set with a beautiful ARRI Amira with a nice shiny lens and all of the bells and whistles shooting that high end cinematic content. Then we’ll have a separate unit that’s running around with literally a cell phone, taking footage for that UGC look because if you want it to look like it was shot on a phone, you should be shooting it on a phone. And then finally we’ll always have a photographer or two on set that day, taking stills for the campaign as well as shooting BTS photos. If you plan your schedules wisely, shooting everything on three different cameras at the same time is totally doable.  

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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