Sean Cummins: ‘Branded content bothers me, since when did we need to disguise advertising’

Sean Cummins at the 2015 National Radio Conference

Sean Cummins at the 2015 National Radio Conference

The global CEO of Cummins & Partners has told a forum that the communications industry is confused about the role of branded content and he is uncomfortable with some the executions being done in the space.

Delivering the keynote address at the National Radio Conference on the Gold Coast today Sean Cummins questioned the strategy and debate around much of the branded content being delivered by many agencies.

“As an industry we are all a little bit confused about branded content and what it means,” said Cummins. “But really none of us are willing to admit it.” 

Cummins used his address to show how easily a branded content message for one of his clients Nando’s could be interwoven, but also challenged the industry to debate this “blurring of the lines”.

“Is it our role to blur the line between the selling message and editorial?,” he asked. “It’s my opinion that consumers don’t mind being sold to so does the blurry line make the sales message more covert, indirect and potentially lacking sincerity because it is trying to be something it is not?

“I think the role of advertising is to not blend into the medium it is put in.”

Cummins argued that too much branded content is being disguised as editorial and that this was actually hurting its ability to persuade consumers and to move them to call to actions.

“The whole idea of branded content kind of bothers me because since when has there been a need to disguise advertising”, he said.

“Advertising has moved away from its key role to persuade creatively and try to be a bit of an exact science.”

Noting the industry’s growing focus on data driven marketing he said:  “We all know that you can have all the data in the world but it won’t motivate people unless it is used cleverly and imaginatively.

“Branded content relies on the storytelling, authenticity and transparency.”

Cummins also took aim at the desire of marketers to “go viral” and also at the creative community for failing to push innovation and creative.

“Creative people have lost their confidence to be allegorical and fantastical because the client is saying just show the product,” he said.

“That tension hurts and we end up with a Brand Power commercial where it is literally just the product.”

The Cummins & Partners global boss noted that “it is tough to find new stories” and this made the creation of good branded content difficult.

However, he implored marketers and their agencies to be creative saying: “the branded content thing is going to keep going everyone is going to do their two minute film, run it on the internet and wonder why it only got 10 views – most of which were probably the marketing department, looking at it twice.”

“Branded content is going to become shorter, snappier, until its 30 seconds and then its basically a television ad again. At the end of the day people’s time and their eyeballs are valuable and we need to treat them as such.”

Nic Christensen

Mumbrella travelled to the Gold Coast as guests of Commercial Radio Australia. 


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