2nd Screen Summit NYC: Branding Gurus See Both Innovation and Frustration

Second-screen branding has evolved dramatically of late as advertisers grasp the importance of the second screen, but achieving scale, marketing apps and proving results all remain serious challenges, according to a panel of brand experts at Thursday's 2nd Screen Summit NYC.

"There was a point on the network side, in the old days of 12 months ago, when there was a ticking of the box. 'We're reading about this, are we doing anything about it? Let's work with Shazam so we can put out a press release and all look smart,'" said David Cohn, VP of music and TV partnerships at Shazam. "That's evolving. Now they ask, 'What's the impact on ratings? Is there a revenue opportunity?' It's the same on the brand side. There's always that balance of wanting to lead, wanting some experimentation but also wanting a return." Agreed Jeremy Lockhorn, VP of emerging media at Razorfish, from the brand perspective, "it still remains very experimental, but it doesn't mean they're not measuring it."

George Hammer, VP group director of digital strategy at Digitas, said the rapid growth of second-screen activity has presented brands with a vast sandbox to play in, but a very unfamiliar one.

"What we're starting to see now is that people are spending 45 minutes on an app during a show," he said. "What's the next frontier there? I think it's about developing digital experiences that take full advantage of the time you have, versus just delivering another impression. The challenge is the fragmentation of the audience."

Moderator Jeff Baumgartner, technology editor of Multichannel News, pointed out that creating seamless integration of brands with content remains a difficult feat due to the multitude of devices, subscriptions and systems enabling second-screen enhancements.

"At the end of the day, people engage with content. Best content experience is going to be done not by us or by the distributors but by the content owners and creators," Cohn said.

Even when compelling apps and campaigns are created, driving awareness and adoption is difficult. Few players outside of Twitter have the scale to push broad adoption. In terms of pushing viewers to second-screen apps, word of mouth is hard to beat, argued Christie Hartbarger, VP of strategic alliances and field marketing at ad network YouMe.

Hammer said linear promos are effective but erratic. Lower-third plugs, for example, have yielded anywhere from 800 to 50,000 downloads, he noted. "So it's hit and miss?" Baumgartner asked. "Right," Hammer replied. "It depends on creative execution. The best way to get engaged is embedding in the content."

The Voice, Walking Dead, the Olympics and the NCAA basketball tournament all got shout-outs from the panel for successful brand campaigns explicitly designed for second-screen use.

"If it's viewed as promotion, we've failed," Cohn said. "If it's viewed as part of the viewing experience, then we've made progress."