Facing facts: Can facial coding help crack the content marketing measurement muddle?

BBC Advertising's commercial development boss reveals the findings of an 'industry-first' study into the emotional effectiveness of content marketing

Measuring the effectiveness of content marketing has long been a source of frustration for marketers, with traditional digital and advertising analytics failing to capture the complexities of a discipline that is forecast to account for US$21.8 billion by 2018.

But now BBC Storyworks — the content marketing arm of BBC Advertising — is claiming to have cracked the code, with the help of state-of-the-art facial-coding technology. The process records consumers’ facial movements on a second-by-second basis and then codes them into six industry-approved emotions: sadness, puzzlement, happiness, fear, rejection, surprise.

Alistair McEwan, senior vice president, commercial development, Asia & ANZ at BBC Worldwide (pictured), said the company worked in partnership with CrowdEmotion to combine traditional research metrics with facial-coding analysis.

"There has been a lot of skepticism around how we measure content marketing and it has proved very challenging," he said. "We believe that measuring content requires a much more cerebral and emotional understanding, alongside the traditional metrics."

The research involved facial-coding analysis of 5,153 digital consumers of English-language international news in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, US, Canada and Germany. To understand why people were experiencing those emotions, a panel of 20 media experts including executives from media agencies, key global advertisers and academia from around the world helped provide context to the results. 

Key findings include:

  • When content was inadequately labeled and lacked related advertising, higher levels of rejection were recorded.
  • There was a distinct uplift when the content was adequately labelled as having brand involvement
  • There was a 14% post-exposure increase in implicit positivity about content marketing’s overall impact for brands
  • Exposure also led to a 32% increase in positive reactions towards the individual brand in question

McEwan said the facial-coding results were corroborated with traditional research metrics, which found that transparency and quality were the most important factors in engaging the audience. The findings were published today in the BBC’s ‘The Science of Engagement’ report.

"Sixty-four percent of those surveyed were happy to read content-led marketing so long as it is clear which brand it is presented by and 64 percent were happy to read as long as it is clearly labelled," he said.

Among those who already have a high awareness of the medium, this increases to 82% and 83%, respectively.

Crucially, there was a strong desire that the quality of content marketing should mirror the quality of the provider’s editorial content.

McEwan added that consumers were 30% more likely to believe content-led marketing on premium news providers, while referencing the brand within the content narrative results in a 109% increase in explicit and a 32 percent uplift in implicit brand positivity.

Away from measurement concerns, the ongoing rise of content marketing and native advertising is continuing to pose problems for both publishers and clients.

Both Buzzfeed and The Daily Telegraph recently had had their knuckles rapped for failing to adequately label paid-for content, while in the US the Federal Trade Commission recently set new standards and business guidelines for native advertising that, if not met, could lead to millions of dollars in civil fines.

McEwan added the transparency issue was the most obvious takeaway from the BBC study, both in terms of content effectiveness and industry reputation.

"The key finding is that content marketing has to be transparent and properly labeled," McEwan added. "It also has to match the editorial quality, it needs to be clear of what it is trying to achieve and integrating the brand within the narrative will work harder for the brand. Also, placing it in a premium environment will give content credibility and allow it to flourish."

He added BBC Advertising now plans to offer these insights and measurement capabilities to premium clients as part of its campaign reporting.

Since launching in Cannes last June, BBC Storyworks has worked on campaigns for the likes of Cathay Pacific, Polaris and Stella Artois.

"This research helps to show that when it is done well, with high standards and with consumers at the heart, high-quality content will really deliver for brands," McEwan added.

This article first appeared on campaignasia.com.

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