Delivering On The Promise Of Branded Entertainment

Most observers agree that we are past early days and well into a “Golden Era” of brand-supported entertainment. But like any other Golden Era — film, TV, music — being a part of it requires two crucial steps: 

1. Create something groundbreaking 

2. Make sure people see it

Step 1, though it’s hard, is happening all over. If the conventional wisdom is that there’s just too much content being made these days, then a logical consequence is that there is also a growing subset of very good content that is being made. And some of it is being made by brands, including feature films. Dramatically reduced production costs, a proliferation of platforms driving a nearly insatiable demand for great content, and direct audience targeting enabled by social media are key forces empowering brands to effectively act as their own studios — financing, producing and marketing their own content. Italian coffee company Illy and financial service giant American Express are just a few brands behind terrific films released this past year. 



Step 2 is where we see creators falling short. In the excitement (and sometimes glamour) of putting together a production, many brands fail to give adequate consideration to where and how the content will be distributed, what audience it will reach, and how that audience — and ultimately the brand’s return on investment — will be measured. And if that investment is about reaching target consumers through enhanced awareness of the brand and communication of brand values, then proper attention must be given to the creation and execution of a well-defined distribution strategy. 

The proliferation of channels and platforms through which today’s consumers consume entertainment content is staggering — Amazon, Hulu, Vessel, Google, YouTube, iTunes, Netflix, Yahoo and so many others. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for highly targeted distribution, or distribution-at-scale (depending on the brand’s strategy) — but those who don’t understand how to navigate these platforms to reach increasingly fragmented audiences often fall short of the promise of this new distribution landscape. 

Take, for example, one classic sequencing misstep. Once content is published on a free-to-viewer platform like YouTube, it’s much more challenging to find a home on other premium platforms. Another common mistake brands make is to produce content without a target set of platform destinations in mind. The type of content that Netflix is looking for is very different from most content found on YouTube, for example. Well before the lights, camera, and action, brands need to think about where they want their content to be seen and what platforms they want associated with it; the distribution strategy needs to inform the creative from the outset, rather than brought to the table as an afterthought once production is complete.

It’s surprising how often this is overlooked in the world of branded entertainment given that this is the area advertisers know best — where an ad should be placed in order to reach its target audience and to generate maximum impact with that audience.

The idea that Netflix or another pay-to-view service would have an appetite for brand-financed content often surprises our clients. But it’s safe to say that today’s content-starved consumer doesn’t really care where great content comes from, as long as it’s entertaining. Does it really matter to most viewers if a movie is from MGM, Disney, Sony Classics, or Paramount? Maker Studios or Machinima?

In a crowded marketplace, branded entertainment can stand apart by offering rich stories to consumers who are willing to engage with authentic, interesting and relevant content. Take, for instance, Subway’s branded series, The 4 to 9ers, which follows the lives of a group of young people working at a Subway franchise. By creating something entertaining and relevant to Millennials while avoiding any overt advertising, the series quickly became Hulu’s most popular short-form comedy series.

It’s not just the likely brand suspects who are understanding and taking advantage of the new landscape. In June, a leading software security firm released “Most Dangerous Town” on The Internet, which promptly shot to the top of the iTunes charts with over half a million views and counting."

With successes like these, it isn’t surprising that more companies are leaping into the premium content game. What’s surprising is how of them many fail to realize the benefits of a holistic distribution strategy that fully leverages all available channels. By building a comprehensive distribution plan that both capitalizes on a wide array of platforms and tailors the strategy to each platform’s particular strengths, brands will be able to position their content on par with traditional entertainment — while increasing brand awareness and delivering measurable results.

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