The Unfulfilled Promise Of Branded Content

Whenever a prospective investor used to contact me, he or she assumed that we were printing money because the vast majority of our "lifestyle" (food, travel, etc.) videos looked as if there was a marketer footing the bill for them – that is, like branded content -- but they were, in fact, not. 

In all honesty, part of our motivation to work with brands was to cast a brand expert in the video to augment the authenticity of its content.  But without a doubt, the long-term objective was to eventually transition those "earned media" (from the perspective of the brand) placements to "paid media," even if I remained cynical and doubtful of the real prospects for branded content.  Yes: the stats suggest that branded content is a more effective form of brand building than advertising, but the reality is that advertising is easy, whereas branded content simply is not.

These days, you have to be living under a rock not to have heard the term native advertising.  There's no single, commonly accepted definition for it.  But whereas native advertising implies one thing for non-content producers like Twitter and Facebook, I think that for producers and publishers of content, the line between native advertising and branded content (or advertorial) is way too slim to matter.  To me, it's essentially one and the same for all intents and purposes because the native product or offering of a publisher is content, and as such, native advertising would simply be content that appears to be in-line with the publisher's day-to-day programming. 

However, always the cynic, I think that part of the reason why so many have jumped on the native advertising buzzword is because the branded content moniker failed to deliver on its much-ballyhooed promise.  Yes, this year's Newfronts are expected to pull in a lot of big marketer attention and budgets, but that may be because we're now expanding the definition to include non-video components, and, well, we're including the budgets that go to the traditional media's online offerings.  This is all acceptable, fine and dandy in an age of transmedia and convergence (yay: more buzzwords!) but when you consider that we live in a world where consumers use the Web to try to catch the suspects in a marathon bombings, you'd figure that they would be savvy enough to find out if a piece of content is paid for by a marketer or not.

I advise marketers that in light of the fact that $65 billion is spent on TV advertising, 86% of people skip TV commercials, then they may want to consider branded content as one of the many tools in their arsenal.  However, they should also accept the reality that consumers will never view branded content or native advertising for anything more than it is.

5 comments about "The Unfulfilled Promise Of Branded Content".
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  1. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations, April 23, 2013 at 12:28 p.m.

    Right on Ashkan, as usual. Content marketing was originally revealed to me as the idea that you a/identify where independent voices are saying good things about your brand/product (eg; Road & Track writes a good review of your new car) and b/figure out how to drive your prospects to read that content because it's so much more credible/valuable than trying to acquire traffic to your own self-serving website (although you'd continue to do that too). Somehow it's all morphed into the idea of brands as publishers, or native advertising. I think these are mostly dead-ends (especially as consumer catch on, and marketers probably can't resist gradually going harder and harder on their pitches)...I'm looking forward to the thought process returning full-circle.

  2. Geoff Simon from SSPR, April 23, 2013 at 1:34 p.m.

    You're completely right Ashkan, it's just semantics. If you call it branded content or native advertising, it's still mixing in messages from brands to your otherwise unfettered stream of content. And yes, consumers these days know the difference, however you want to dress it up.

    Tumblr just jumped on that bandwagon as well, calling the decision to put ads in user streams, one that took into account that they would be 'native'. And brands that do a good job of it can get their stuff out there themselves, virally through social channels, without advertising, although advertising helps.

    And content marketing is different than branded content and native advertising. I do agree there's value in marketing the PR driven media hits through your social channels, but brands can do a good job of producing valuable content, just not most of them. Red Bull, National Geographic, NASA even do a great job of creating viral, compelling content that i would argue is not native advertising, but branded content.

    THe only differentiating factor i would mention is that native advertising you do have to pay for, no? Branded content would be something that you craft and push for free from your blog, facebook, twitter for instance - but not paying as in a sponsored post, promoted tweet, etc. But the actual content would be the same, the difference being whether you pay to promote it or not, just my $0.02

    It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out though.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 23, 2013 at 10:41 p.m.

    Great truth about content marketing here. As a creator of quite informative infomercials, what I've found is that consumers prefer that you be up front about your communication - they want to become smart about products but hate a fundamental "bait & switch" dishonesty in content marketing. Gotta suggest you choose your closing statistics more wisely. While someone was silly enough to publish the 87% number it is extraordinarily credible. That number is self-reported (a very bad approach) and is the data you picked out is even contradicted by other data within the survey. And what it misses is the influence of ads even while ff-ing to skip through them.

  4. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 23, 2013 at 10:42 p.m.

    Correction: That 87% number is extraordinarily in-credible - meaning lacking all credibility.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 8, 2013 at 7:38 p.m.


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