Score One For Branded Utility

Scott Belsky, Founder & CEO Behance, gathered his thoughts following his trip to Austin for SXSW earlier this month. Writing for OPEN Forum, Belsky says he appreciated AOL’s booth where they curated news. Score one for branded utility.

Belsky (who I heard from at Big Omaha last May) also says “the future of advertising” was a hot topic in Austin this year.

With brands in the hands of the people, a new genre of advertising will arise that is more authentic and borderline educational. Companies will tap their expertise as a way to win people over. For example, GE knows a lot about the future of energy and jet engines, Pepsi knows a lot about marketing and beverages, The New York Times knows a lot about journalism.

While you would likely skip over any commercials from these brands, you might be interested in their perspectives in areas where your interests intersect. Maybe you want to learn about GE’s smart grid from the scientists behind it? Perhaps you would enjoy a behind-the-scenes perspective on how a newspaper is assembled every single day from The New York Times? Great things happen when companies leverage their expertise for public interest. It also makes for powerful advertising.

I don’t think brands are in the hands of “the people” as Belsky and others claim; however, I love the idea that “companies can leverage their expertise” for the greater good. Utility is the secret ingredient missing from so much branded content. Pure entertainment is great, but brands and their agency partners are not skilled at making pure entertainment. Brands are skilled at making offers.

A focus on utility, or education, is another kind of offer. It’s an offer that invites people in, and by inviting people inside the company, stronger bonds can form. For instance, it’s not enough to know that Patagonia uses organic cotton exclusively. A consumer needs to also know why, and Patagonia has done a great job educating its customers on the issue.

image courtesy of Flickr user, Liang Shi



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.