As the market for content creators continues to grow, brands are faced with a variety of options for what role to play alongside partners. Should they be hands-on or hands-off, authority figures or co-creators?
These questions are important for marketers looking to profit beyond awareness from their influencer activations and were the focus of a panel discussion at Advertising New York that featured executives from Equinox, Diageo and DoorDash. With the need for compelling content here to stay, the marketers touched on how creative collaborations are evolving. DoorDash, for example, considers both its merchants and delivery workers, or dashers, to be creators.
"Everyone has the potential to be a creator," said Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, vice president of marketing at DoorDash, reflecting the delivery service's search-and-amplify approach to creatorship.
The session showcased creator partnerships that run the gamut in terms of purpose, opportunities and proximity to the creative process, with DoorDash, Equinox and Diageo executives each describing a unique approach to working in this space.
While DoorDash considers all users to be creators, the company has inspired select pockets of dashers to take on more traditional creator duties, such as Bentley Koup, whose DoorDash Diaries aims to be a resource for fellow delivery people. Amoo-Gottfried says the company's role is to amplify this content in order to build more robust platforms for creation.
"We try to figure out where is the story, what's interesting, what can we lean into," Amoo-Gottfried said.
DoorDash has also partnered with high-profile talent to create mass reach, but the purpose of creators has more to do with building authenticity, Amoo-Gottfried said, hence the emphasis on stories. This could help to explain why the company also sees its merchants as creators.
During the pandemic, DoorDash partnered with Krazy Hog, a barbecue joint on Chicago's South Side, to help get the restaurant back on its feet. What DoorDash saw in Krazy Hog was a local story that could inspire a national audience, so the company built a campaign around the establishment to tap its creative potential.
Whether through partnering with Koup to review new products or opening a virtual kitchen for Krazy Hog, DoorDash is seeking to build its platform by boosting the creators that are already there.
"Creating new intent is an incredibly difficult thing, but figuring out where people are going and giving them a way to get there faster is absolutely the thing to do," Amoo-Gottfried said.
For its creators — typically known as "fitfluencers" — Equinox tries to play an authoritative role. This need stems from the balance the luxury gym chain has to strike in order to create content that people want to talk about and share while preventing misinformation that commonly surrounds health and wellness.
"We see ourselves less influencing, and more about expertise and education," said Peter Giorgi, CMO of Equinox.
Being a purveyor of truth has become increasingly important in the COVID-19 era, as both social media influencers and gyms have peddled false claims pertaining to masks, virus data and vaccine alternatives.
But beyond playing its part as a responsible fitness club, Equinox also uses authoritativeness to create more targeted content. The gym chain has access to data, science and measurement that it uses to accelerate the digital offerings of its Equinox Plus program.
Early in the pandemic, for example, Equinox learned from its data that 4% of users were accessing its app between midnight and 5 a.m., Giorgi said. Noticing the insight aligned with the "wherever, whenever" philosophy at the heart of the app, Equinox created classes for devoted club members in remote places, including on the side of the road in Dubai and in a canyon in Utah.
The efforts reinforced what Equinox knew people did with the app, Giorgi said. For a brand operating in a noisy space like fitness, commanding authority in this way could help it create content that endures with users.
“How do we make more things that actually matter and have some staying power and contribute in a way that isn't just entertaining for 15 seconds?" Giorgi said.
As a house of brands, Diageo's role is not one-size-fits-all, said Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of marketing at Diageo. Instead, the marketer works to channel versatility in its approach.
"[We] can be in front, behind, about impact … in high reach or just in culture," Kelly said.
In a campaign last year for Crown Royal, the company teamed with burgeoning singers Ari Lennox and Anthony Ramos to cover Sly and the Family Stone's "If You Want Me to Stay." The content was part of an effort to help bars, stages and clubs during the pandemic, reflecting how building in purpose can boost creator content.
"That's one way of partnering with people to do something to have massive impact," Kelly said.
Another way the company has worked with creators is by using their respective networks to educate audiences on its products. Kelly cited partnerships with YouTube chef personalities Babish and Sohla El-Waylly aimed at teaching viewers how to create cocktails at home using Johnnie Walker and Singleton.
Creators have also been used as background players, such as in the case of Crown Royal's recent canned cocktail campaign, which saw up-and-coming hip-hop artist DijahSB soundtrack the ad and gaming creator Erin Ashley Simon enhance its 3D experience.
The precise way in which Diageo teams with a creator depends on the brand in question, Kelly said. To this end, the company chooses creators who match the brand's purpose, impact and audience.
Going forward, Kelly said the brand is focusing on how its relationships with creators can be more than simple endorsements with big names eyeing for reach.
"It's got to be about collaborations and values and true partnership," she said.