Has Truffle Pig upped the content marketing game?

2nd July 2015

I was fortunate enough to be at Cannes Lions last week, networking, enjoying the glitz, the mecca that is the Palais, seeing some great work, rosé on the Carlton Terrace, catching up with old friends and celeb-spotting…

But for me the most interesting piece of news of the week was not the awards or the big-name speeches, but the birth of a new agency – and a rather unusual agency at that.

This was of course Truffle Pig – a unique tie up between WPP, the world’s biggest ad group; Mail Online, one of the planet’s most-read newspaper websites; and Snapchat, the video messaging app firm.The tie-up, announced by Sir Martin Sorrell (aided by Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, the new agency’s CEO Alexander Jutkowitz and Jon Steinberg, CEO of Daily Mail Online) last Tuesday, took everyone on the Croisette by surprise (the deal was apparently only finalised days before) but was one of the big talking points of the week.

As I understand it, Truffle Pig will help brands create, develop and shoot videos for Snapchat and other similar platforms (interestingly, Facebook also used Cannes to unveil a rich media video ad platform for mobile). It has met with a predictably frosty/sniffy reaction from some quarters of the advertising community, but Truffle Pig’s unveiling was nothing if not timely.

Essentially it’s a content creation agency and given the interest in native advertising, Sir Martin and company could be onto a good thing. Look at the success that Vice has had with native advertising. Vice has managed, on the whole, to walk that tricky high-wire between ‘advertising that feels a bit like editorial’ and genuine investigative journalism (witness its superb frontline reporting from inside Islamic State’s self-declared ‘caliphate’).

Creating compelling or engaging native advertising (or indeed decent content) is much more difficult than it looks, which might be one of the reasons why, this year, the Lions jury did not award a Grand Prix gong in the Branded Content & Entertainment category. (There was nothing in Creative Data either, which perhaps means the data kings need to do something a bit more creative than just infographics, but that’s another story for another time.)

But putting together a bunch of journalists, a global marcomms network and a hugely popular video site makes perfect sense. Indeed, Sorrell told the festival that, compared to Vice, traditional news outlets like the BBC and the New York Times were “too stuffy” for younger audiences, who trust and engage with different sources – such as what their friends and peers tell them, or outlets like Vice News – to their elders.

“We naturally trust the BBC, the New York Times or the Guardian,” he told the Guardian’s Mark Sweney. “But younger people, centennials or millennials, don’t naturally feel that way. If they see something on Buzzfeed or Vice, or watching Periscope, the way they react to it is very different.”

Whether or not Truffle Pig will work where previous attempts, going back almost a decade, have failed to set the world alight, remains to be seen.

I thought it was particularly interesting for a number of reasons: first, here at Green Square, we’ve been talking about the need for the marcomms community to rediscover the art of storytelling in its efforts to engage ever-more savvy, marketing-resistant consumers in an ever-more cluttered media landscape.

Secondly, by 2020-2025, the most powerful economic group in the west will be the millennials (those born between about 1985 and 2002), who according to a Deloitte report published last year, will make up nearly 75 per cent of the UK workforce. This group is often distrustful of big brands, and the stories and values those brands have nurtured over years or even decades. To get through to them, new approaches will be needed; you’ll also have to be where the millennials are – which isn’t watching linear TV or reading newspapers.

But they are using, and engaging with sites like Snapchat (which has well over 100 million daily users, most of whom are in the 13 to 23 year old age group, and around 400 million snaps are swapped or shared each day). Indeed, a number of adventurous US firms, including fast food chain Taco Bell and frozen yoghurt chain 16 Handles, have already used the app quite successfully as a marketing tool.

But adding the expertise of the Mail group and WPP adds more depth to Snapchat’s social reach. Interestingly, it looks as if Truffle Pig won’t just be looking to host its content on Snapchat – it’ll also be introducing branded content on dailymail.com, and another Mail web property, Elite Daily, which is aimed at millennials (or in the Mail’s parlance, Generation Y).

Initially, Truffle Pig will operate in the US (where content marketing is more advanced than it is in Europe and elsewhere), as part of a WPP content creation agency called Group SJR, but will obviously call on its international capabilities if needed, and the new agency will be looking to work with almost any outlets.

It seems a good deal for all three parties – Snapchat gets to partner with more ‘respectable’ or ‘established’ media and will get help in clarifying its sometimes confused offer; the Mail gets a ready made content marketing agency, so it doesn’t have to build one from scratch; and Sorrell gets early-mover advantage, which he always likes.

By the way, if you’re wondering where Truffle Pig’s name comes from, I believe it’s a lift from an old quote by the great David Ogilvy, who said, back in the far mists of Mad Men time, “We seek knowledge as a pig seeks out truffles”.

The agency will have to find something both rare and tasty, and will have to persuade wary brands that they both need, and will benefit from content marketing. And most of all, it needs to tell some very compelling stories. But I don’t think this tie-up will be the last of its kind by any means