Journalists look down on Demand Media as a content farm, churning out reams of plentiful, cheap content. It seems like Madison Avenue likes Demand for that very reason.
L’Oreal USA has commissioned Demand Media to produce several hundred short-form videos as part of an elaborate new partnership between the two companies. The original L’Oreal-branded videos will start this June and will be distributed throughout 2011 on Demand’s typeF.com, eHow.com’s Style channel and YouTube. The clips will be how-to in nature and will focus on specific, narrow topics. For example, rather than offering general beauty tips, a L’Oreal video might focus on the more search-engine-friendly “how do I apply makeup to an almond-shaped eye?” explained Erika Nardini, Demand’s svp of sales and marketing.
Many of the clips, though not all, will feature L’Oreal experts and products, such as Maybelline New York, Garnier, Redken, Lancome and L’Oreal Paris. Users will eventually be able to purchase products straight from Demand’s sites.
The deal represents one of Demand’s biggest forays into original video content. But more important, it’s another sign that big brands don’t seem to care much about the issue that consumed media observers (and clearly Google), the notion of the content farm business model — in fact, that’s a plus for brands hungry for content to draw in customers.
“It’s hugely important [for Demand],” said Nardini. “We’re very, very focused on top-tier advertisers. This partnership is emblematic of what we are trying to do. The quality is paramount. You’ll see more of this from us.”
That will require Demand to walk a fine line. While brand might line up for it to churn out content for them like a production shop, Demand wants to be a media company selling ad space.
The rationale for L’Oreal is pretty simple. There’s clearly a demand, so to speak, for beauty tutorials. Witness the popularity of YouTube makeup stars like Michelle Phan, who has a sponsorship deal with Lancome. L’Oreal boasts of authority when it comes to subjects like beauty, hair and eyes. Demand provides it with distribution and production talent that would be hard for a packaged goods company to reproduce on its own. The content could become another sales channel.
L’Oreal was so invested in getting its emerging content strategy right that it invited 10 different companies, production firms, media vendors and the like, out to San Francisco last year to present an array of concepts. Demand’s ability to produce at a high volume, and to distribute widely, won out.
“It was like speed dating,” said Marc Speichert, chief marketing officer of L’Oreal USA. “It’s important for us to get this right, because the whole path to purchase is changing. In the past it was a relatively simple cycle: we’d generate demand on TV and in print and then drive sales. Now, consumers research online first, and there is a new first moment of truth. So we have to think about how we insert ourselves into that consumer education.”
Even before Google’s algorithm attacks, Demand has clearly been moving to reposition the company as a brand-friendly publisher of sites that attract a loyal user base — something that many doubt, given the low engagement figures demonstrated by eHow.com in the past.
In the past few months, Demand has revamped eHow.com’s design, while also partnering with Rachael Ray to discover authentic cooking talent on the Web.
And typeF.com, where many of the L’Oreal videos will reside, was built in conjunction with former supermodel and talk show host Tyra Banks, whose empowering everywoman message should resonate with many female-oriented brands. If nothing else, the L’Oreal deal changes the subject.
Indeed, besides the service-oriented fare, Demand and L’Oreal are planning at least two original episodic series later in the year.
Speichert said he had no concerns about the constant chatter surrounding Demand, and in fact raved about the production quality of typeF.com. “It’s a beautiful site,” he said. “As you imagine, we are spending a lot of money on the production of our ads. They are very high quality. And we wanted to make sure [Demand’s] content was on the same level of standard that we put out. And we wanted a partner with skin in the game.”
Based on some early test videos, “the engagement is very strong,” added Speichert. “That’s a testament to their quality.”