When we think of branded content, we generally think of the videos on our Facebook newsfeeds like the famous Pantene “A Man's a Boss, a Woman's Bossy” commercial or make-up tutorials sponsored by companies like Sephora. We don’t think about consuming a brand while physically reading a story. However, native advertising and brand presentation on a website like Wattpad present an opportunity for us to do just that.
Wattpad is a platform onto which anyone can upload stories and where readers can interact with these authors. The model for Wattpad was much like that of a social media platform- first the creators, Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen waited to gain a loyal consumer base before truly monetizing. Use of the website and the accompanying app (available on both the Android and the Apple Store) is free. This model has certainly paid off, as their current monthly audience is about 45 million people around the world. Of these 45 million, 85% of the readers and writers are aged 13 to 30. This is a primary demographic for building brand loyalties and attraction to products.
With such a large consumer base at hand, in the summer of 2015, Wattpad launched Brand Stories. With this endeavor, Wattpad began to incorporate native advertising into its content in order to monetize in a very unique way. Brand Stories involves creating actual, physical stories have skillful ad placements and brand sponsors. Notable companies like Coca-Cola, Unilever, and 20th Century Fox have partnered with Wattpad in the effort to tell such stories.
What about Wattpad makes it so suitable for brand-based advertising? Whereas branded content on popular social media, like Facebook or Twitter, can be consumed with a click, the consumers on Wattpad’s platform consume with much more patience and are exposed to content for longer periods of time. Moreover, Wattpad’s audience conveniently self-segregates itself into different demographics by following certain authors and genres. For example, HaveYouSeenThisGirL, an author on Wattpad, has 961K Followers- she writes romantic stories in Tagalog. Her audience primarily consists of Filipino female millennials- the target demographic for Unilever’s Eskinol skincare brand. Therefore, she was paid to write a story in her genre for a particular ad campaign that Eskinol ran- the Face of the Day campaign. Her story was posted under the Eskinol page on Wattpad and has multimedia advertisements placed within the story that help associate the story with the brand. Additionally, Eskinol products are placed into the story itself. The readers who already enjoy this author’s work read it while consuming Eskinol’s message. According to the Wattpad case study, in ten weeks, the campaign had reached 880 thousand Filipino users on the Wattpad platform alone.
Since authors are not paid for merely uploading a story to Wattpad, Brand Stories is a great way for them to earn money if they do not want to place extraneous ads onto their stories. It is also a way for Wattpad to monetize on a large scale by partnering with big names and for the companies to market their brands.
Corporate campaigns and stories on Wattpad are fairly abundant now that a year has gone by since Brand Stories first launched. For example, another author on Wattpad, NinyaTippett writes romantic stories for an audience of female millennials and prides herself on writing women-centered narratives that empower females—this is a quality that she brings to the H&M brand campaign on Wattpad. Other authors have also partnered with H&M “to help create the perfect…outfits for some of their most popular Wattpad characters.”
Ashleigh Gardner, the content director at Wattpad, says, about how the stories gain exposure, “A lot of our users will share stories that they love. They tweet links to their favorite stories. Our exposure is very down to our users particularly in terms of the app store where we keep getting new downloads every day.” Wattpad doesn’t even have to spend additional time in advertising the stories themselves. The stories, the author, and loyal readers do the work of spreading the campaigns that feature in Brand Stories.
It is worth taking a step back to consider that the stories about the brands that are being told are actually stories- online literature. With branded videos- the messages are simple and straightforward. For one, the videos are made by content teams who work closely with marketing teams for a single company’s ad campaign. Other instances of native advertising which involved ad placement or brand creation are much easier to manipulate in terms of consumer sentiment. A how-to tutorial by a popular blogger on taking care of babies with a particular diaper brand is also very straightforward. However, with Wattpad’s form of advertising there are many ambiguities inherent to the art form of writing. For one, there are three different parties involved in the campaign: Wattpad’s management, the company running the campaign, and the author that enters into the agreement. The stories themselves have multiple purposes: to entertain, to persuade, and to represent both Wattpad and the company in question.
The ambiguities of Wattpad’s Brand Stories make it even more engaging to its readership because readers are attracted to the authors and to the stories. Often times that stories involved in the campaigns fall into a characteristic genre that comes with certain tropes that the readers expect. These tropes often form contradictions with the branded messages being incorporated into the stories. For example, the trope of the female heroine who embraces a body-positive image might encounter skin creams that seem to value fairness as a quality for women. However, writers manage to work-around this and end up re-branding products that could hurt this body-positive image into products that fit right in line with the story’s narrative.
Wattpad’s Brand Stories combines literature with a corporate message, thereby creating its own genre of literature with unique tropes and fans. As Wattpad’s readership grows, even more companies might see a benefit in partnering with Wattpad and with authors on Wattpad- giving more volume to this genre. This interesting phenomenon will take place even as this novel method of marketing products and companies- by incorporating them into stories- becomes a more popular form of advertising.