What follows aren’t the strangest team-ups in content marketing history — if so we’d have to include Colonel Sanders, Green Lantern, and The Flash — but they are some of the most novel.

As you start to think about ways to grab attention in 2016, you’ll want to look to these innovative partnerships:

GE – Asking amateurs to write branded fiction

Speaking of KFC and DC, here’s another collaboration rooted in comic books. Back in the 40s and 50s, GE published scores of branded comics to get kids interested in STEM careers. More recently, GE partnered with Wattpad — the web’s foremost purveyor of One Direction fan fiction — to commission serialized sci-fi stories inspired by the covers of those classic comics.

The first six stories, with delightfully retro titles ranging from “Inside The Atom” to “More Power To America,” were created by popular Wattpad contributors. So what’s the goal this time around? To show how GE technologies are shaping the future. “Our Place In Space,” for instance, prominently features the Mars-bound spacecraft GE Galactica.

What they did: GE, a prolific storyteller in its own right, encouraged aspiring authors to build stories around their brand.

What’s great about it: Most big brands won’t take the risk GE did. It could pay off, too. Wattpad reports previous efforts by AT&T and Mondelēz International have increased brand consideration by up to 30%.

What you can do better: While I applaud GE’s thinking, the prose of the Wattpad authors has plenty of room for improvement. Readers seem to agree. Part One of “Our Place In Space” has around 7,300 views, but engagement steadily declined with each new installment (a trend that repeats with other multi-parters). Keep in mind the success of something like this is highly dependent on the strength of the writing.

MasterCard – Sponsoring a site few have heard of

As far as brands go, MasterCard can afford to make splashy native ad buys in any publication they want (and they pretty much do). So I thought it was especially savvy when they sponsored content on Skift.com, a smallish travel news site that exists to sell trend reports via a subscription-based service. I don’t know who sold whom, but the whole deal is pretty inspired.

The resulting Future Cities initiative featured a Skift-produced microsite, where five videos explored how forward-looking cities are utilizing sustainable design, integrating smart technology, expanding public transportation and rethinking urban planning. The videos are essentially preamble for MasterCard’s Global Cities Destination Index, which is prominently featured as a free download.


What they did: MasterCard found an outlet that attracted their target audience, but not their competitors.

What’s great about it: Based on the performance data Skift has made available, MasterCard’s content marketing racked up well over 10,000 pageviews. The individual videos also generated between 1,250 and 5,175 views. That’s not too bad for niche!

What you can do better: Skift’s efforts for MasterCard could have been higher energy. When you find that non-traditional partner — and you totally should — make sure they have the chops to make every bit of content count. Assess the first few deliverables before blowing out the whole program to be sure that everyone involved is fully aligned on tone and feel.

Westin – Hiring a publisher to create content they can’t publish

When I think of brand integrations I don’t think of McSweeney’s, the high-minded literary journal founded by “serious” author Dave Eggers. But the smart satire of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is certainly well-suited for Westin’s Out-Of-Office Generator.

While OOO emails are typically banged out by office drones minutes before they escape to wherever, the hotelier turned McSweeney’s writers loose to craft OOO responses that demand to be read. Soon-to-be vacationers can now visit a co-branded site, answer a few questions and then choose from 14 personalized messages. Each perfectly conjures of what one hopes their vacation will be.


What they did: Westin hired a publisher to create content that won’t reside on their own site.

What’s great about it: Westin was smart enough to realize a memorable program was going to require more witticisms than they could muster. By tapping the McSweeney’s team of humorists, they were able to serve up OOO messages people would want their co-workers (and boss) to read. As it turns out, thousands did!

What you can do better: This content marketing partnership is damn near perfect. My only knock: the video component is an afterthought, nothing more than a static image and a voiceover of the various OOO responses. That aside, I really liked this program and encourage marketers everywhere to find partners who are better suited for the task than they are.