Filmmaking + AR: How Qualcomm is Pushing the Content Marketing Boundaries - Insights
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Filmmaking + AR: How Qualcomm is Pushing the Content Marketing Boundaries

by Heather EngAugust 30, 2016

Several years ago, few people outside the tech industry knew what Qualcomm was. To change that, the technology company turned to content marketing to build brand awareness – and has become a leader in the space with its innovative and tech-centric approach.

When it comes to telling your brand’s story, it’s admittedly easier to promote products that are eye-catching and have mass appeal: slick gadgets, flashy cars, stylish clothing. It’s a bigger challenge when your business is more intangible, something people can’t easily grasp.

That was the conundrum Qualcomm faced six years ago. The San Diego-based technology company is rooted in research and development, and has created much of the technology that powers wireless devices. (If you’re reading this on a mobile device, you’re using some form of Qualcomm’s technology.) Despite being leaders in the 3G and 4G spaces for many years, Qualcomm was far from a household name. The company had been quietly existing in the background of the B2B space. They hadn’t advertised much simply because the wireless industry was so small.

But from its vantage point, Qualcomm could see how quickly the landscape was evolving. Within a few years, wireless would begin to transform nearly every industry, from healthcare to automotive to education. Qualcomm knew it was necessary to get its name out and introduce itself to those industries. It was time for the company to expand its B2B reach and make its way into the B2C space.

Liya Sharif, Senior Director of Marketing, early on saw content marketing as a key way to tell Qualcomm’s story.

“You can’t build your brand with a banner ad,” she says. “Content is what brings depth.”

Liya Sharif, Senior Director of Marketing, Qualcomm
Liya Sharif, Senior Director of Marketing, Qualcomm

Creating a Content Marketing Framework

Five years ago, Sharif launched Qualcomm’s first foray into content marketing. She assembled a team from scratch, hiring journalists and experienced writers and editors. They launched Spark, a standalone website, where they published articles to reach specific audiences. The team operated like an independent newsroom, jumping on stories, chasing down leads, researching and writing in-depth features. They commissioned writers and brought in experts to create think pieces. They utilized native advertising to target key audiences.

Before long, it became too much.

“We learned that having a separate publishing engine sitting outside our own domain was a bit too ambitious,” Sharif says. “We realized we couldn’t scale it because we’re an engineering, not a marketing company.”

After testing and weighing their options, Spark moved from its standalone site to This relaxed the publishing cadence and allowed content to better integrate with Qualcomm’s larger brand narrative. The pivot enabled Spark to succeed. Today, Spark still plays an integral part in telling Qualcomm’s story.

“The engine we created is working today,” says Sharif. “The whole content marketing group is still staffed with editors who know how to create content and edit quickly. And brand uses it extensively to tell its story.”

Building Brand Awareness Through Video

With written content in a good place, Qualcomm turned to new technology to raise brand awareness.

“Video is hugely, hugely effective,” Sharif says. “People love film – all formats of film – and visual storytelling. We’ve done video all along, but in the last 18 months, we’ve started really ramping out building our master brands and elevating the innovation story of Qualcomm.”

Invent-Off,” an online reality series that launched last year, was one major initiative. In its first season, two teams of engineers, students, and artists were challenged to concept and create a new product within five days using Qualcomm technology.

The competition angle was a way to draw in viewers. And the underlying marketing premise was simple: a product demonstration. By watching the series, viewers could learn about the kind of technology Qualcomm develops, and the great potential it unlocks for users.

The first season did well, according to Sharif, but she and her team also learned a lot during the process.

“Each of the six episodes were about two minutes long,” she says. “We were under the assumption that shorter is better for everything – the whole idea that people have short attention spans and won’t watch videos more than one minute long. Well guess what? It depends on the content, what the stories are.”

For this year’s second season of “Invent-Off,” which launched in July and whose final episode premieres today, the two teams received a more targeted assignment: Using Qualcomm technology and the Internet of Things, create a product that will save lives.

Andrew Fried, known for his work on Netflix’s documentary series “Chef’s Table,” was brought on to direct.

“My mantra from the very beginning of our creative planning on this project was to stay as real and observational as possible,” he says. “We wanted this to be more in line with cinematic and observational documentary storytelling and much less of a presentational competition type of format.”

Director Andrew Fried on the set of "Invent-Off"
Director Andrew Fried on the set of “Invent-Off”

And to accomplish that, he wanted longer episodes.

“Andrew and I argued back and forth over the length for a while,” Sharif says. “He said, ‘You really have to trust me. When you develop strong characters, when a film is a great film, you want to watch and you don’t want it to end.’”

Sharif and Fried compromised on each episode being around 10 minutes long. (And, of course, they created additional cuts – 15 second, 30 seconds, and so on – to promote the series across social channels.)

In the end, Fried felt that storytelling, and not promotion, ultimately drove the series.

“Honestly, ‘Invent-Off’ was not very different from other documentary projects I’ve directed and produced that are not tied to a brand,” he says. “We had a group of characters doing something about which they care about deeply, working together to accomplish a goal. My job was to faithfully capture and synthesize that experience to the viewer. That was an exercise in storytelling, not marketing.”

Sharif and her team are still analyzing the metrics, but they’re already stronger than the first season.

“Tens of millions of people have watched ‘Invent-Off’ and the episodes have a fantastic completion rate,” she says. “That’s great for a brand that has not had a lot of recognition from consumers.”

“Invent-Off” is not Qualcomm’s only recent cinematic effort.

In May, to make headway in China, Qualcomm released “Lifeline,” a 30-minute thriller directed by Oscar winner Armando Bo and starring Leehom Wang, Olivia Munn, and Joan Chen. In the short film, a man wakes up and discovers that his girlfriend has disappeared. When he gains possession of her cell phone, he uses the data within it to discover what happened to her.

A related documentary short details the making of the film, as well as all the Qualcomm technology highlighted within it.

Experimenting with Augmented Reality and the Arts

Beyond traditional film, Qualcomm has started to experiment with other film formats. In May, the company partnered with the “New Yorker” to bring its Innovation Issue cover to life through augmented reality (AR). When viewed through the Uncovr app, artist Christoph Niemann’s designs, “On the Go,” on both the front and back covers, sprang to life, with buildings popping off the page and the cityscape coming alive.

In addition, readers could experience Qualcomm ads in that issue through AR.

“We have print ad fatigue,” Sharif says. “AR allows publishers and advertisers a breakthrough.”

Last year, Sharif also launched an ongoing series with “The Atlantic.” Titled “Could: Painting What’s Possible,” the project explores technology’s role in new innovations through commissioned artwork, exhibits, videos, and longform writing.

“The content expands and extends to different means,” Sharif says.

She and her team are currently looking ahead to next year, strategizing and developing initiatives around soon-to-be released devices, as well as renewing and refreshing their brand campaign.

Content, in its many forms, will, of course, be key to much of that, and Sharif is excited about the possibilities.

“The constant churn, constant cycle of distribution, it’s just so flexible,” Sharif says. “You can do so many stories in so many ways.”

This article was written by Heather Eng, NewsCred’s Managing Editor.