You know it when you see it. The drama unfolds. It draws you in with a compelling story line. It presents a mystery or a dilemma. Here’s an example:
It’s only at the very end – sometimes in the very last frame, sometimes just as product placement – that the brand is revealed. In this case it’s Choice Hotels.
I’m calling this trend the Invisible Brand. The brand sneaks up on you. The fact that the brand exists is not the point of the commercial; it’s the culmination of the journey, relationship and important decision embedded within. And it’s a brilliant display of content marketing. It’s one that all content marketers should consider adding to their strategies.
Creating an Invisible Brand Play
There are three steps to creating a successful Invisible Brand play:
1. The Conflict
The Invisible Brand must present a real dilemma worthy of a mystery or thriller. It must trigger the kind of involvement and curiosity that says, “I need to know what happens next.” If that urge is missing, chances are the audience will click away before they ever see the brand.
2. The Story Line
The Invisible Brand’s message must move the audience forward and keep them guessing. But it also shouldn’t keep them hanging for too long lest risk losing them.
How long is too long? It depends on the complexity of the story. How many story elements do you have? The opening example is about a minute long and it is built around one core element: stay or go. It addresses many types of people with many different reasons for traveling, but each with the same essential dilemma.
3. The Reveal (of the brand)
The solution to the conflict must be the logical or only answer to the dilemma, positioned as the victory, the prize, the journey’s end. It could even be a funny twist. The point is that it can’t just be thrown in as an afterthought or feel forced; it must be seamless to work effectively.
Here’s a great example of the funny twist approach—a spin on public service ads:
Did you catch the product placement about 15 seconds in when the pizza guy delivers to the selfie party? The angle barely shows the brand so as not to spoil the reveal. Here’s how the Invisible Brand approach plays out in this video:
- The Conflict: The Dangers of Selfies
- The Story Line: It’s getting worse and look at the horrors it’s causing (wink, wink).
- The Reveal: Pizza Hut wants you to “selfie” responsibility.
Going Beyond Video
This approach is easy to apply with video, but a lot harder in other content forms. The trick is to use invisible branding cohesively across the omni-channel environment. Here are some ideas beyond video for using an Invisible Brand strategy for your content marketing programs.
For an Invisible Brand approach, an infographic has to be more than informational data and statistics. It has to be a story infographic that leads the reader to a conclusion in which the brand is revealed.
Instead of being heavily branded at the top (and often the sides) as many are, an Invisible Brand’s infographic will lead the reader to the logo and website URL at the bottom. Or, you can make the “last frame” on the infographic a clickable question that leads to the brand reveal.
Interactive Marketing Apps
Interactive marketing apps like those from Ion Interactive, Wishpond and Offerpop can use static text and graphics to create custom interactive content for an Invisible Brand. This interactive infographic could easily be modified to support an Invisible Brand reveal.
Contests, especially in a digital treasure hunt format, can also support the Invisible Brand approach. The caveat here is that the hunt must be for the solution to the problem that the brand solves or the benefit it brings, and not just for the brand itself.
For example, the “find the brand, win a prize” method is the opposite of the approach an Invisible Brand would take. Although the brand is “hiding,” it is not invisible because we know up front we are hunting for the brand.
Straight text (blogs, articles, etc.) are the most challenging of all for an Invisible Brand. They are too easy to scan, virtually eliminating the suspense. Text requires a very strong conflict and story line to hold the readers’ attention to get to the Invisible Brand. Hyperlinks without direct brand affiliation (i.e. non-branded anchor text) or a clickable icon that is story related (not brand-based) and leads back to branded web properties may be the best strategy here.
Using the Invisible Brand Strategy
What stage of company growth is the Invisible Brand strategy best for? Clearly, established brands can take advantage of this strategy because as a known brand, they are instantly recognizable at the reveal or can even be used to test the awareness of the brand.
For example, I remember (but can’t find online) an old AFLAC commercial in which two ladies were lamenting that their sick friend did not have “that insurance—you know, the one that pays you when you’re sick.” Then the camera pans behind them. You are expecting the duck. Your brain might even be yelling AFLAC! But there’s no duck. Finally, in the last frame of the commercial, the duck is on vacation, at the beach with a little umbrella drink in his hand.
Yes, big brands have an advantage with Invisible Branding. But startups can use it too. The trick is to tell your story (journey, benefits, solution) so well that the reveal makes a powerful, strong introduction of your brand to new customers or markets as a new way to solve a previously unsolvable problem. It’s not easy, but when done well it can catapult your brand to new heights and visibility.