When is an ad, not an ad? When it’s branded content.

Posted by Orla Doherty on 19 Jun, 2018

With marketeers‘ need for ‘always on’ comms, ‘mobile first’  branded content has proliferated. 

But what is branded content?  And how do you do it well? Use it without proper thought and it could backfire on you.  Work hard to make it relevant, authentic and entertaining and most importantly, consumer-centric.

TV has traditionally always been a first port of call when launching a new ad campaign.  There’s nothing like TV to establish brand awareness on a nationwide scale for a new product or brand direction. Whether it’s a bog standard 30 secs or a luxurious 60 secs, TV is the biggest, most expensive output upon which agencies and clients alike hang their hopes for world domination.  This article is not about the death of the TV ad – far from it. But it is about the surge in popularity of the brand film – how and why it has come to rival, if not take the place of, TV for advertisers in the marketing mix.

There are those who contend that online content is and should be cheap.  It’s user-generated, right? So it can look a little er fuzzy? The sound is a little muffled, but that’s ok, right?  And people look at this stuff in vertical all the time, so it’s ok that we missed that really funny thing that was out of shot, because it wasn’t framed for landscape.  This is to totally undervalue what well produced and strategically sound content can do. Poorly thought out and badly executed content is a missed opportunity.

But, even more fundamentally, the problem with content is that many cannot even agree what is content?  If you’re confused, you’re not the only one.  With branded content a ubiquitous buzzword among marketeers and advertisers, there’s huge confusion about what it is that’s got everyone talking. Sponsored content, branded content, digital marketing content, social media marketing content, video content marketing,  brand story content, content creation marketing, web content creation, branded storytelling… Despite being the thing that everyone wants to do, it seems not many of us can actually define it.  According to the Content Marketing Association, “Content is about sustained attention, gaining your customer’s trust by drawing them into your brand’s world for an enviable amount of time”. OK, so what now?  What’s the best approach to making effective content?

Well like any piece of communication, you need to ask yourself – what do you want to say, who are you talking to and what is the point of the content?  Just because content is viewed as a cheaper form of advertising (whether this is true or not), it doesn’t mean that client and content marketing agencies can do away with the brief and thinking about the overall long-term strategy.  The rules still apply if you want your content to get noticed… Be relevant to your audience, at a time and place when they are open to seeing your message.  Be entertaining and they will stick with you til the end.  Be true to your brand’s DNA and you will have permission from consumers to tell them your story.  If you go away from that, you risk being seen as inauthentic and you’ll lose them.


Rules of the branded content club


Creating engaging and effective content should follow certain rules, which the best and most creative content adheres to.

Don’t look like an ad.

Or ‘taking the brand out of branded content’. The most creative content films don’t have an obvious agenda.  Yes, there may be a little logo in the corner if it’s entertaining enough, not only will you watch to the end, but (the holy grail) you may even share with your network of friends. This might seem foolhardy as a brand, but the less hard sell approach has definite merit (See Binet and Field).  For one, as far as the viewer is concerned, the content’s first purpose is to entertain, and that’s likely to keep people watching for longer, and two, the satisfying payoff at the end, when the viewer ‘gets’ what it’s been about, makes the viewer feel that they’ve been taken on a journey – and somewhere where they’ve been happy to go. Goodwill and emotional engagement towards the brand are more likely.

Tell a good story.

As above, the content will only be as good as the story being told.  It is a good story? Is it told well? Should you spin a yarn and still keep people guessing, rather than setting your stall out at the very beginning?  Is it a story your audience will find relevant? Good stories can influence actions. And according to behavioural science, action precedes opinion. So a good story can do more than just tell.  To quote Bryan Esienberg, ‘Effective content marketing is about mastering the art of storytelling. Facts tell, but stories sell.’   

Long-term is always better.

A content film should be conceived and produced as part of a brand’s longer strategy and totally consistent with the brand’s personality and tone of voice.  It should not be some ad-hoc add-on because content is what everyone is doing and your marketing department are screaming for an ‘always on’ digital strategy and you need something now. Which takes us to…

Don’t make content for content’s sake.  

The viewer is not stupid.  They can see when brands make content because it’s seen as faddish.  Only produce content that adds to the brand’s overall USP or brand purpose, otherwise, you risk alienating your audience and being seen as irrelevant and insincere. A clear objective is key.  Which will also help you measure the effectiveness of the work. After all, there’s a reason you’re making content in the first place, isn’t there? It has to be measurable to be proven to be effective.

To draw viewers in and hold their attention we need to tell great, relevant, specific and authentic stories.  All comms, whether content film, video content or branded content has to be consumer/viewer-centric if it has any chance of being seen.  But unlike TV, branded content allows brands to enter into an intimate dialogue with consumers – a reciprocal relationship which gives the brand unique and privileged access to the consumer.  To quote the American Press Institute, ‘a good story is about something the audience decides is interesting or important’.

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