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Digital content marketing delivers for brands, reveals BBC’s facial coding research

Brand engagement and perception heightened by transparency, integration and a premium environment, highlights the research done by BBC StoryWorks

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | January 22, 2016


BBC StoryWorks, the content marketing arm of BBC Advertising, recently pioneered new ways of understanding the emotional impact of content-led marketing by measuring consumers’ subconscious reaction to campaigns on BBC.com.

Having said that, in a study published by them titled ‘The Science of Engagement’, their in-house insight team, in partnership with facial coding experts CrowdEmotion combined traditional research metrics with facial coding to understand how brands can use content-led marketing to effectively engage with consumers.

BBC Advertising intends to offer this insight to premium clients as part of its campaign reporting to ensure they understand the full impact content-led marketing can have on consumers and the value of it to their brands.

According to John Williams, VP Advertising Sales, South East Asia and South Asia, content-led marketing continues to soar and is yet at a nascent stage. “BBC StoryWorks intends to take this to premium clients across the globe so that clients can effectively engage with consumers. Also not to forget that measuring the effectiveness of content-led marketing still remains a challenge in many markets, this study has been successful across six countries across the globe with about 5000 plus respondents,” he added.

According to the research, well executed and clearly labelled content-led marketing is considered trusted and persuasive in quality environments, and has a powerful emotional impact for the brands involved. Exposure to content-led marketing can significantly improve consumers’ positivity towards the advertising brands (with a +77 per cent increase in explicit positivity between pre and post exposure). In addition, the study measured the second-by-second facial movements of people as they experienced the content to measure true engagement and the respondents’ implicit reaction.  The results showed that exposure can also lead to a 14 per cent increase in subconscious positivity.

Richard Pattinson, SVP Content, BBC Advertising and Head of BBC StoryWorks, said, “In a time when advertisers are increasing their spending on content-led marketing, it is important that they also feel confident in its effectiveness, and understand the significant positive impact this kind of content has on their brand. We believe that this study will enhance advertisers’ understanding and confidence in these campaigns, and in the value of high quality content-marketing delivered in premium environments.”

Talking about the challenges, Sally Wu, Research Director, BBC Global News, told BestMediaInfo.com that they faced a few challenges on the infographics front and in analysing the video content. But eventually they managed to study it properly.

“The research started in April 2015 and it took about six months for the research to get over and about a month for analysing the data we received,” added Wu.

Key Findings:

  • Heightened engagement where brand involvement is truly transparent
  • Properly executed content led marketing is trusted and persuasive
  • Powerful emotional impact on the brands
  • Integrating the brand within the narrative works harder for the advertiser
  • Placing in a premium environment will give your content credibility and allow it to flourish

Other key findings from the research include:

  • Transparency and quality were revealed to be the most important factors in engaging the audience.
  • 64% were happy to read content-led marketing so long as it is clear which brand it is presented by and 64% were happy to read as long as it is clearly labelled.
  • Among those who already have a high awareness of the medium, this increases to 82% and 83% respectively. From that group, 80% agreed they would share it and 80% think it plays a complementary role to editorial content.
  • In the facial coding study, rejection for fully labelled brand-presented content was 7% below the average benchmark, while rejection for non-labelled content was 18% above the average.
  • 63% of respondents were happy to see the content as long as it mirrored the quality of the provider’s editorial content. In addition, 59% found the content informative, 55% found it interesting and 57% said they would share it.
  • Consumers are 30% more likely to believe content-led marketing on premium news providers will be more informative and accurate than on non-premium news providers.
  • Content-led marketing enhances brand perceptions, with a +10% uplift for familiarity and a +14% uplift in average brand image between test and control. It also drives brand amplification, with a +14% increase in recommendation and a +16% lift in consideration.
  • Integrating the brand drives a greater emotional response and referencing the brand within the content narrative works harder for the advertiser. Integrated content drives a +109% increase in explicit and a +32% uplift in implicit brand positivity. Integrated content also increases key call to action measures of recommendation (+21%) and consideration (+20%).

In October 2015 a month-long study was conducted, following the insight that while traditional performance metrics offered a partial story of campaign success, combining them with the measurement of both conscious and subconscious consumer reaction to branded content offered a more rounded view of the effectiveness of content-led marketing campaigns.

On the decision to explore emotional recognition techniques, Pattinson said, “BBC StoryWorks has used the innovative facial coding methods offered by CrowdEmotion to prove that when made transparent and properly executed, brands can use content-marketing to heighten emotional engagement and enhance brand perceptions with consumers.”

BBC has worked with Vodafone in the Indian market and intends to work with many more brands. Indian advertisers are receptive to content-led marketing, but it’s taking time for them to adapt to the same.


The research included a sample of 5,153 digital consumers of English language international news across six key markets: Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, USA, Canada and Germany. It focused around three core measurements - an online quantitative survey, facial coding and Implicit Response Testing.

For the unconscious measurement, facial movements were recorded on a second by second basis through a web camera and then coded into six basic emotions: sadness, puzzlement, happiness, fear, rejection, surprise.

To understand why they were experiencing those emotions, a panel of 20 media experts from executives from media agencies, key global advertisers and academia from around the world helped provide context to the facial coding results. The experts viewed the content tested in the research and rated them for the presence of a number of key factors – such as fun and easy going, thought provoking, cerebral etc. These results were merged with the emotional response to help understand why consumers responded in a certain way.


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