Brands need to ditch their fear of emotions to make branded content work says BBC Storyworks head

Triggering as many emotional responses as possible in a story is the key to successful branded content campaigns, says the head of BBC Storyworks, Richard Pattinson.

Pattinson spoke to Mumbrella about its experience with branded content, and its research on the neurological triggers that drive consumers.

Head of BBC Storyworks, Richard Pattinson: “really important that there was frequent emotional content”

The key part of successful branded content campaigns was to grab the audience’s attention with emotional peaks early in the piece, Pattinson said.

“I think for the industry, sometimes there is a nervousness around creating content that creates an authentic emotional experience that can sometimes be a challenging one.

“We found it was really important that there was frequent emotional content. Rather than something that will build to an emotional crescendo, it was important there was a repeated emotional impact on the consumer. There’s a correlation with the number of emotional peaks and the results.”

Pattinson based his findings on the BBC’s Science of Memory study that used neuroscience techniques to investigate how emotions impact memory and how brands can harness that to create stronger campaigns.

The study also found video viewers in different regions can have different emotional reactions to branded content. For example when shown the same piece of content, APAC viewers were surprised, while Americans showed sadness or empathy and European viewers were happy.

Regardless of the emotions triggered, consumers still remember the pieces favourable, claimed Pattinson: “An association with what’s traditionally considered a negative emotion, completely justified by the narrative, still triggers a positive brand outcome.”

“Another point we found was that, as long as the emotion was relevant to the content, there’s no such thing as a bad emotion. So emotions such as empathy, which can come across as sadness or fear, if it’s legitimate as part of the content consumption then it’s still positive for the brand.”

Pattinson warned however stories need to be consistent with the brand: “Brands need to understand the context of the people they are trying to reach. When people come to the BBC website they are likely consuming editorial content. They need to be experiencing content that’s consistent with that.

“Context is very important when it comes to branded content. When a brand has a legitimate story to tell, then that works really well. When you have have a cognitive dissonance with what the brand is trying to tell and what people’s experience about the brand, that’s when you have an issue.”

Despite the science, the basics of telling a story remain essential, Pattinson concluded. “If you tell emotionally engaging, character led stories, then you deliver significant emotional engagement and the more frequent the emotional intensity, the better things are for brands.”


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