Branded content marketing has become a divisive issue in the industry. Is it advertising? Or is it content marketing?
The Content Marketing Institute has argued passionately for the term to be dropped, insisting it gives content marketing a bad name.
And in an interview with Advertising Age, Mark Fortner, jury member at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and head of innovation and branded content at Mediacom, said, “Many of the entrants in the branded content and entertainment category just slapped a logo onto something, or made an integration just for the brand’s sake without any larger narrative or natural partnership.”
The considerable challenge for those in the industry is to find the balance between entertainment and promotion – the practice of ‘logo slapping’ is a big no-no.
After there were no winners in the Branded Content award at Cannes 2016 for the second year in a row, festival CEO Phil Thomas called on content producers to focus more on entertaining audiences.
“Clearly there is an issue about the quality of the work,” he said. “What the jury was saying was, ‘Listen, it is branded, we can see it’s branded, it’s content, but the entertainment side of it is not stacking up in the way in should.’ It’s quite a big statement for juries to do that, so when it happened for the second time, it became obvious that the industry needed to focus on this more.”
When a brand gets it right, however, the impact of a branded content marketing campaign can be significant.
UK department store John Lewis has enjoyed tremendous success with its annual Christmas commercials, with seemingly the entire nation hooked on its seasonal tales of festive joy. The ads have a heavy focus on narrative, with products weaved copiously but carefully into the storyline.
This subtle approach to branded content marketing has created an annual phenomenon and helped the store boost sales by 35 per cent since 2012.
Is it the same as content marketing?
It’s worth noting that branded content marketing isn’t necessarily the same thing as content marketing. As Jan Godsk from the BCMA explains:
- Branded content marketing campaigns are often associated with entertainment-type content, such as creative video advertising. The aim is to resonate with the consumer on an emotional level rather than focusing on the actual product and USPs.
- Content marketing campaigns are more focused on the product or service and the content is usually more rational and informative. This takes place further down the customer decision journey and, unlike branded content, ROI is more about lead-generation and sales than building a positive image of the brand.
READ MORE: 5 of the most imaginative YouTube campaigns
As Joe Pulizzi argues in Chief Content Officer, there is an important distinction between the two.
“With a content brand, you are always focused on the needs and pain points of the audience first. The goal is to build a loyal audience, and then leverage that loyalty to drive a business goal.
“Branded content, on the other hand, is about getting the product or service out there in some way, albeit in a more entertaining way than just straight advertising. This is a quick-hit strategy. There is no need or want to build a relationship through content.”
Branded content done well
“People don’t like being sold to. It’s a discomforting experience, so the challenge for content marketers is to make sure the entertainment value of the content outweighs the discomfort.”
Mike Clear, Digitas
There are a host of emotions that brands can utilise and combine in order to provide that entertainment value. In addition to humour, branded content could focus on happiness, warmth, pride, nostalgia, sadness, awe or shock in order to resonate emotionally.
1. New York Times: The Displaced
In November 2015, the New York Times distributed one million Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers to some of its subscribers. This level of attention to detail gave what followed a significant headstart on most branded content campaigns. The NYT VR app was downloaded more times in its few three days than any previous app released by the paper.
The Displaced is a VR story about refugees, and specifically how war has affected 30 million children around the world. Viewers are taken on a hauntingly immersive journey across three war-ridden region.
The video won the Entertainment Grand Prix at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, with jury president Jae Goodman commending the piece satisfying editorial and marketing demands in equal measure.
“This is a piece of entertainment content that moves the brand and the business that created it forward,” he said.
2. Gatorade: The Boy Who Learned To Fly
As a piece of branded content goes, this is as impressive as it gets. The Boy Who Learned To Fly is a mini biopic that charts the rise of legendary Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in seven engrossing minutes.
Gatorade enlisted Oscar-winning animation studio Moonbot Studios to make a tie-in short for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The studio’s credentials, combined with Gatorade’s budget and the global popularity of the film’s subject, meant that the short was destined to be an almost certain hit.
Gatorade itself is barely noticeable in the film aside from several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances on background advertising hoardings, as well as a brief moment when the cartoon Bolt takes a swig out of a Gatorade drinks bottle. There’s almost a case for arguing that the brand could have upped their starring role by several notches.
The film has so far amassed almost 15 million views on YouTube, with another million on Facebook and more than 2,000 shares.
3. Samsung: Hearing Colors
Neil Harbisson has an antenna implanted in his head that enables him to hear colours. The short film charts his movements around a city, and his efforts to convince people that the antenna is part of his body.
The Connected Series looks at how modern technology affects the way people communicate, but the brand is entirely absent from its own video aside from a brief post-credits caption in the final frame.
The film won Tribeca Film Festival’s first branded content award in 2016, with the jury highlighting the compelling nature of the story as giving the audience something not usually offered by branded content.
“This film exemplifies the kind of work that we applaud in which a brand is telling a genuinely compelling story in a way that adds value to people’s lives,” said Andrew Essex, CEO of festival owner Tribeca Enterprises. “I’m told it was a very difficult decision for the jury, that there was tons of great work, and that’s an encouraging sign for the industry.”
What’s your favourite branded content marketing campaign? Leave a comment and let us know.