Branded content is dead. Long live branded content

In this guest posting, Anthony Freedman argues why branded content is making a comeback.

A few short years ago, probably concurrent with the advent of the PVR, a new term emerged within the marketing communications industry; branded content. This was really synonymous with advertiser funded TV shows where programming was created by brands and deals struck with networks to broadcast them.

There were varying degrees of success with this model. Yes it gave rise to Gamekillers developed by BBH New York for Axe and Iconoclasts developed by @radicalmedia for Grey Goose Vodka. Locally Rexona was behind Greatest Athlete. And no doubt there will be a long list of posts from readers highlighting many other local and global success stories.

But in my opinion, this model never really took off to the extent that many thought it would. And I think there were a number of reasons for this.

Firstly the business model for a TV network is predicated on ratings. And they are ruthless in culling programming that doesn’t deliver. They will move scheduling around and if necessary, cut shows altogether. This makes for a highly volatile climate for a brand that needs to reach an audience at a certain time within a certain period. Would it be prudent to divert advertising production and media dollars towards programming that may not run at the time your audience tunes in? Or worse still that may not run at all?

Secondly the notion that people wouldn’t watch traditional advertising any more never really came to pass. I’m not going to re-hash whether 30 second TV ads are or aren’t relevant any more within this piece. It’s a well-worn debate and I just don’t have the word count available. But suffice it to say that TV stations are still in business selling them and year on year Superbowl spots seem to get more expensive not less.

Thirdly the quality of the content just wasn’t that good. There was a fair share of poor concepts, badly executed, with insufficient production values and gratuitous (but justified) brand messages that detracted from the entertainment value rather than enhancing it.

For all of these reasons for many the phrase ‘branded content’ felt tired and decidedly 2007!

But actually I think it’s alive and kicking, albeit in a different form.

In the first two months of this year alone, Host produced three ‘branded content’ campaigns for three different clients.

Kiwi Sceptics for Air New Zealand followed four Aussies convinced New Zealand had nothing to offer them, as they were duped into a visit that resulted in a very different experience to the one they expected.

20/20 for Free TV is the second series of documentary films that looks at the future of television from the people who are shaping it. This installment featured Dan Wieden, Jonathan Mildenhall (Coca-Cola VP global advertising strategy and creative excellence) and Mark Holden (PHD global strategy director) among others.

And Coke Zero challenged NRL teams across the country to a series of football challenges in the pursuit of understanding of just what’s possible… or not.

So what about the notion that branded content is dead?

To me, the key to this resurgence is the ability for brands to now find an audience without the need of a broadcast partner.

In a short few years we have all grown very comfortable with the notion of consuming video online. Our connections are faster, we are streaming longer form content and downloading on a daily basis. Quoting US figures from comScore, the number of hours of online video watched by an average user increased by 60% to 21.8 hours in the 12 months from Feb 2011 to Feb 2012.

The web has democratised the content landscape and good quality stuff is now able to find its own audience, bypassing the broadcast partner altogether. Of course we need to have the right skills to ‘ignite the social graph’ but every agency worth its salt would have some understanding of how to do that. Or would know someone who could help.

Interestingly for brands, when you are earning your audience rather than buying it through a broadcast partner, it’s even more important that the content entertains and the brand role is smartly integrated not simply bolted on. Because the better the content, the more sharing and commentary and the bigger the

Additionally, the digital environment is more forgiving from a production values perspective allowing for more modest productions. The web also supports a much wider range of content format from webisodes to vlogs to ‘how-to’ videos. Online content is more accessible to many more brands, either with smaller budgets or who aren’t quite ready to dispense with the more conventional advertising options in favour of their own TV show.

We also now have more ways to consume video content more of the time. The number of devices that make for a good viewing experience has exploded from smartphones to consoles to tablets. Estimates suggest that by 2016, 50% of the population will own a tablet.

Lastly like all things online, it’s highly quantifiable. Brands can watch their audience grow, count the views, monitor the comments, see the sentiment. All in real time. Better still they are one click away from converting to a sale or finding out more. And if they’re not convinced there and then, you can ‘re-target’ them a week later.

And this is before I mention the notion of “branded content” as apps or games…

From where I see things, branded content far from dead. It’s come of age.

Anthony Freedman is the chief executive of Host Sydney


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