Why It's OK For Your Brand To Take The Back Seat

on Content Trends

Alt-rock band Imagine Dragons' new album just hit the top of U.S. album charts, but not without some much-discussed advertising.

When Target aired a live Imagine Dragons performance during the Grammys, millions of viewers with their fingers on the fast forward button likely gave pause.


This was no ordinary commercial. In fact, it looked and felt like a Grammys performance. And that was the point.

Target used its four-minute commercial buy on CBS to have Imagine Dragons perform an entire song live, to the tune of nearly $8 million according to Billboard estimates.

Refreshing as it was to see a brand using its ad buy to sponsor quality entertainment (see: content), Target left its much lauded "native" concept behind on YouTube, where the sponsored performance lives online.

Imagine Dragons Target ad on YouTube

When I read about the strategy, I went straight to Google and landed on the YouTube upload of the concert.

To my dismay, I was interrupted with an ad for the very performance I was there to see.

I was immediately confused.

The pre-roll is 30 seconds of an un-skippable ad previewing the four-minute (sponsored) performance you would otherwise be watching.

I wondered to myself: is this the same savvy Target marketing strategy from the Grammys commercial event?

I get the urge. Brands always want the most bang for their marketing buck.

But the pre-roll does nothing the video couldn't do on its own, i.e. sell Imagine Dragons fans on a Target-exclusive version of the new album.

On live network television, Target made conscious decision to let its brand take a back seat while reaching a massive mainstream audience.

They relied on the association of "good music" with the Target brand to complete the objective of "buy music at Target" (specifically #moremusic, for this campaign).

Online, Target decided to take the front seat when reaching a decidedly more targeted group of Imagine Dragons fans.

While there was only four seconds of direct response messaging of the 30-second pre-roll, the point they missed is that the performance itself was already an ad.

That's like paying for an interstitial on your own website.

The choice to interrupt branded content with a more traditional and invasive ad is a confusing one.

The rules of direct response marketing don't apply here. Native content doesn't need a call to action. It's a longer term play.

Brands can and should rely on the associations developed from whatever it is they're sponsoring and not try too hard to insert themselves into the conversation they started.

Walmart is finding success with content marketing, reporting 10x ROI on its Twitter and Facebook marketing efforts. NewsCred even has a cheat sheet to help calculate it. Neil Patel at QuickSprout gives practical advice on his blog every day.

Whether this type of soft marketing is worth investing in – or working – for your brand is a different story.

And the story, after all, is the point of brand advertising in the first place.