Content marketing gives brands a way to entertain, engage and inspire consumers, associating themselves with a feeling rather than a disruptive ad. This year, we have already seen some great examples of content marketing—here are five campaigns that stand out.

HBO—Silicon Valley VR: Inside The Hacker Hostel

To coincide with the show’s Season 5 premiere, HBO launched a fully-interactive VR experience called Silicon Valley: Inside the Hacker Hostel. HTC Vive owners can explore a faithful, 3D recreation of the show’s famous home and workplace, interacting with 750 items.

Video challenges from the show’s characters Dinesh and Gilfoyle send users on missions ranging from destroying old hard drives to solving a code crisis.

Campaign Takeaway: Let Fans Play In Your World

VR experiences are nothing new for the entertainment industry, but these activations are typically “look only.” Inside the Hacker Hostel embodies the humor and lore of Silicon Valley not only in appearance but in what it allows fans to do—letting users feel like part of an inside joke while making their own memories associated with the brand.

Mercedes-Benz—Bertha Benz: The First Driver

Legacy automotive brand Mercedes-Benz launched the first branded video on Instagram’s new IGTV with Bertha Benz: The First Driver. The black and white short film was shot and edited to accommodate IGTV’s vertical format and runs a little over two minutes in length.

The branded content tells the story of Bertha Benz, wife and partner of Mercedez-Benz founder Karl Benz. When her husband invented the first automobile in 1888, he didn’t think it was ready but Bertha did. Without telling him—and with a helpful push from her two sons—Bertha took off for a 60 mile test run.

Campaign Takeaway: Share Your Brand Story

Brands, especially massive corporations, can appear to consumers as some unfeeling entity that exists only to generate profits. Telling Bertha’s story not only honors her legacy but highlights the struggles she overcame that would ultimately set the automotive industry in motion. Humanizing a brand through storytelling allows consumers to see it as an imperfect but ambitious entity with hopes and dreams, just like them.

IKEA—Matcher’s Keepers

It’s no secret that friends, roommates and couples often can’t agree on home furnishings, especially while navigating the maze that is IKEA. The Scandinavian assemble-it-yourself brand made light of this common problem and quite literally made a game out of it called Matcher’s Keepers.

Hosted by lifestyle blogger Caroline Solomon, the three-part series debuted on YouTube in March to promote the IKEA Places AR app. Contestants were challenged to finally agree on a furniture selection by previewing it in the app. If they successfully agreed on their choice of couch, lap or desk, contestants won the real-life item to take home.

Campaign Takeaway: Seeing Is Believing

The beauty of augmented reality is that it closes the imagination gap. Once a consumer has visualized an item in their home, the chance of buyer’s remorse lessens. Matcher’s Keepers engaged consumers by acknowledging the challenges of furniture shopping, offering a solution and inviting viewers to try IKEA Places for themselves.

Estrella Damm—La Vida Nuestra (Our Life)

Alcohol marketing is known for its idealistic depictions of life—commercials filled with good-looking people laughing and having fun without a care in the world. Spanish beer brand Estrella Damm continues this tradition with its branded short film but isn’t afraid to show life’s harder bits first.

La Vida Nuestra is a 16-minute film starring Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as a suave, easy-going TV character that guides Antón (Álvaro Cervantes) through his past mistakes so that he can move on. Ordering or serving up Estrella beer happens frequently through La Vida Nuestra, but the condensation-dripping bottles take a back seat to a message of allowing yourself to enjoy life while celebrating when others do, too.

Campaign Takeaway: Embody A Philosophy (And Celebrities Don’t Hurt)

Rather than drown his sorrows in beer or show only the happy parts, this short film offers another solution to the main character and by extension, the audience—acknowledge your choices, let go of your regrets and give yourself permission to enjoy life. Offering this sage advice lets audiences know that the Estrella brand not only understands life’s hardship but cares about its customers’ happiness.

McDonald’s—The Sauce

When McDonald’s got an unexpected shoutout on the wildly popular cartoon Rick and Morty, the brand saw an opportunity. For a limited time, the restaurant would offer Szechuan dipping sauce and everything would be great . . . or so they thought. There wasn’t enough sauce to quench fans’ thirst for Szechuan and McDonald’s saw itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, i.e. riots and angry customers.

To make amends, McDonald’s launched a three-part podcast called The Sauce that explains what happened and why the brand is taking fan disappointment seriously.

Campaign Takeaway: When Failure Happens (And It Will), Own Up To It

McDonald’s isn’t the first brand to make a public apology about a campaign that missed the mark or failed to meet customer expectations, and they will definitely not be the last. In its moment of frustration, the quick service restaurant decided to apologize in a sincere and creative way. The Sauce takes an empathic and transparent approach to the corporate apology, humanizing the mishap and lettings fans know that they will try to do better next time.

Honorable Mentions:
  • Pepsi—Uncle Drew: Despite not showing Pepsi all that much, Uncle Drew is essentially a full-length branded film that managed to hold its own at the box office.
  • Procter and Gamble—The Words Matter: One Voice Can Make a Difference: This documentary tells the story of how the brand became one of the first Fortune 500 companies to include “sexual orientation” to its equal opportunity employment policy.
  • Campari—The Legend of Red Hand: The Italian aperitif brand used its signature red color to create an air of mystery around its cocktails in this short film delivered in the style of a box office thriller.

Any campaigns we missed? Give us a shout @alistdaily.