A New Look At Branded Content

Every year at the upfronts, we get a glimpse of new programming built to bring viewers to the networks. But that willingness to evolve stands in sharp contrast to the majority of advertisers, which remain stubbornly tied to the past with traditional 30-second spots that have poor retention rates.

For a generation that prides itself on conservation, a lot of green is being wasted. Creative conservationists may want to consider giving an evolving form of branded content a try instead, if they truly want to preserve their budgets.

Marketers upped the dollars spent on branded content in 2009, doubling the 2008 tally. Branded content snagged 32% of overall marketing, advertising and communications budgets. And reports state the numbers are expected to jump significantly this year, following a recent Kantar Media study revealing that companies utilizing branded entertainment spots are experiencing double-digit growth.

Yet the 30-second spot continues to reign supreme, despite living in the blur of the DVR fast-forward. In a landscape where traditional ads are designed to fill holes between programming -- or, rather, entertainment is split to create holes for the ads to be placed -- it is time we realize the formula is not working well. That is, unless clients are willing to spend ungodly millions for shelf space in the Super Bowl in the hope of hitting the pop culture jackpot.

In the early days of television, marketing began as a completely overt concept. Integration into content started when brands sponsored entire programs. It wasn't a bad fit, and audiences were comfortable with product placement. But as the years went by, viewers' acceptance turned to disdain; critics said product integration was bad and the public agreed. Producers couldn't find subtle ways to integrate. Cups with soda brands appeared on tables, while logos were inserted into shows during post-production.

There is, however, some solid evidence that integration can be fun, memorable and, above all, works. Network and agency executives are creating content that doesn't just blur the line between programming and advertising but wraps the whole package in a bow. And the public wants to watch when it is well-produced.

When the economy tanked and ad dollars tightened, advertisers looked to the Web -- and transmedia as whole -- as a place where traditional commercials could live and be micro-marketed to each segment of their demo base. Initially, brands repurposed on-air spots, amortizing the fortune they spent to cast the widest net possible on cable and the Web. But when this specialized, intrusive advertising model also tanked, clever marketers realized there is another, more effective, way to reach specialized audiences.

Meet the branded content interstitial: low-cost, one- to two-minute interstitials that audiences cannot skip over. They look like programming because they are programming. These modernized longer-form spots have a narrative and are packaged for today's short-attention span audiences, so brands can have the ability to create their own super-cool marketing content for a fraction of the cost of traditional commercial spots.

Since TBS initially struck advertiser gold with its brand-friendly, multiplatform interstitial "Dinner and a Movie" and saw its ratings increase an average of 11% in the 18-49 demo by the middle of the last decade, these produced sponsored specials have evolved. Today, they are customized to play across multiple distribution platforms, which has allowed sponsors to target a wide range of audiences, from potential movie-goers on cable to tweens with iPad applications and young adults surfing specific websites.

The question is whether more brands will eventually catch on, spending more money on more content that truly is content.

By the way, it just took you two minutes to read this. Now, back to your show.

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3 comments about "A New Look At Branded Content".
  1. Chase Norlin from AlphaBird , July 9, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

    Andy, very well said and couldn't agree more. As a leading web syndicator of branded entertainment and long form video, we are seeing this category become a preferred tool for marketers that are tiring of in-banner video (users being annoyed by autoplay video ads) and pre-roll video (users forced to watch an ad before the content they really want starts playing). In our view, a much larger macro trend is at play here: all advertising is becoming content. It has to, users live in an on-demand universe with access across multiple devices, they need "content" that truly captures their attention and drives engagement.

    Chase Norlin
    CEO, Alphabird

  2. Alexandra Watts from Manhattan marketing ensemble , July 9, 2010 at 4:10 p.m.

    Bravo also seems be getting into this space more and more which is exciting. Another great example of this was Lowe's (Home Improvement) "Building the Set" for Parenthood on NBC and having the set designer (talent) speak to all the great products they have that help bring Spring to your home. Hope to see more fun brands playing in this space soon.

  3. borner smith , September 2, 2010 at 12:37 a.m.

    The increasing demand for brand integrated entertainment in Britain has also led to TV executives co-developing programme content from an early stage.
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