But what really is branded content?
It’s advertising morphed into social media, viral, digital, mobile. It’s content crafted to showcase the strengths of a product with an entertainment twist. It’s content that can turn a brand fan into a fanatic. But with competition from regular entertainment programmes the light at the end of the tunnel for branded content is a little dim. So what’s the real problem?
THE TRUTH IS BORING
Entertainment programmes are fictional giving a lot of leeway to be outrageous and fictitious to the point of absurdity, but who cares. It’s entertainment!
The problem with marketing is, you have to stay within the invisible boundaries when toying with the truth. The market today is made up of sophisticated consumers who are well informed and do not easily buy into catchy slogans and unsubstantiated claims. The fact is, today it’s all about truth. The problem is truth can be quite dry.
Andreas says the key to engaging consumers is always quality and relevance. Quality, as critical as it always is, it is also by far expected. It is expected from any product they choose to engage with. And even though quality could be perceived to the standards of each consumer, it is fundamentally important. “We do not choose to watch a show, read an article, and listen to a story or a song if we think it is of no quality to us, do we? But we must take it a step further than quality and that is relevance. The product must be also relevant to us”.
Offering entertainment is just one way to be relevant. But content plays many roles. Content can inform and educate. Branded communication, branded utilities and brand experiences are facets of branded content. Understanding what matters deeply to your consumer is the starting point to finding a meaningful content strategy and role for the brand. Relevance is never boring to people - by definition!
Take for example Persil’s Dirt is Good campaign in Australia. Which was more relevant to parents, the latest breakthrough in laundry powder ‘technology’, or whether their children are growing up playing outside enough? By focussing on the latter, Persil suddenly became more interesting to, and interested in, its consumers. It doesn’t have to fight for attention. It can have a dialogue about why kids should be playing outside more often. Of course, once it has the consumer’s attention, it is still vital to tell our audience about that latest cleaning breakthrough. At least this time, they’re listening!
Mike Da Silva, CEO of MDSA Entertainment Marketing said at last year’s Malaysian Media Conference that there is possibly no stronger brand influencer or purchase motivator than an endorsement from an actor in a movie. With the millions of dollars brands spent on engaging celebrity ambassadors, the statement must be true.
Personalities do certainly play a significant role in branded content similar to the role they play in content in general. Bigger names attract bigger audiences, and who they are gives you a clue to the content and its relevance to you. “For a personality to really work well in a branded content context, they need to have ‘bought into’ the core concept and purpose of the content. It is quite possible for a personality to be a ‘face’ for a branded content concept, without actually endorsing the brand funding it. But the brand benefits from the association, and the pulling power of the personality,” adds Andreas.
However, while celebrities may act as a key traffic drawer and create the pull factor at the initial stage (assuming this is relevant to the audience), if the content is not good, it’s not going to be sustainable. And in some cases, it may work in the reverse. Some personalities have become more visible and well-known after their appearance in the branded content program. Some reality branded content have even discovered or created new personalities.
And needless to say, we need to carefully consider the risk associated with celebrities once they get into non-desirable or controversial behaviour - what is our stance as a brand then? Do we continue using them or not? And how do we explain this to the consumers, especially if they have developed a strong association with the brand through this particular celebrity?
Certain segments of the ad industry have become concerned with outsourcing production of branded content as agencies lack the technical skills for production of films and digital content. Benjamin Palmer CEO of The Barbarian Group says agencies and media companies have to find a way to make and/or fund online content, utilities, games and platforms that can be owned or sponsored by brands so the content relates to the brand instead of just incorporating brands into a pre-planned storyline.
This however is easier said than done. As Andreas points out, the reality of planning rich content strategies and delivering true branded content-led campaigns means a great deal of the traditional model will change.
“Strategists will need to understand the role and influence of engagement channels like editorial, events and social media as they never have before. Creatives will need to develop ideas that have a very different anatomy to advertising creative. With a content-rich idea sitting at the heart of a brand’s communication strategy, the traditional hierarchy of agencies is likely to be turned on its head. Agencies who deal with content creation could be more influential and key to communications than the traditional ad agencies.”
He adds that production investment will change dramatically moving towards faster, nimbler more responsive style communication pieces, and brands and agencies will start to consider rights ownership as part of their campaign and investment planning.
Malaysians love digital media content. The book ‘Media Facts 2009/2010: A snapshot report of the key trends in the Malaysian media landscape’ by Carat states that Malaysia’s broadband penetration rate may only be 21% (according to MCMC report, Q4/2008) but Malaysians who have gotten online are sophisticated users of the Internet. Malaysia is within the top 10 highest media consuming nations out of 52 countries, according to a recent Nielsen survey.
This is truly the future of branded content, social media.. With the rise of social media, Malaysians have definitely caught up with the latest culture. As search engines are a staple in the online world, it is no surprise that Google is the top property online site used by Malaysians. Friendster.com and Facebook.com ranked fourth and fifth proving Malaysians as social junkies, at least in cyberspace, (of course the mamak trend attests to the social nature of Malaysians in general).
Malaysian advertisers are interested to see if their brand can leverage successfully on the platform, but perhaps not as aware and knowledgeable as it should be. However, we are all in a huge learning curve and we are all watching how other more advanced markets respond to this platform in order to learn, adopt faster and smarter explains Andreas.
PHD Worldwide paints the future of the digital world in their book ‘Media Agency 2014: PHD on the Future of the Media Agency’. They predict that in four years mainstream audience will be able to download several types of content at one time in high definition with no lag time, about 100+ Mbps per second. In 2008 a typical home achieved download speeds of between 0.8 to 3.5 Mbps.
By 2014, a high percentage of homes in developed markets will be watching content streamed over the Internet. All major TV channels and production will stream and make their content available online. The major entertainment studios such as Universal are investing heavily in developing entertainment content expected only ever to be distributed and consumed online. In Malaysia, both Media Prima and ASTRO are endeavouring to do the same, with some good successes says Andreas.
Branded content will become even more important as statistics show a drop in audience figures and TV budgets slashed which will grow critical over the years. This is where advertisers have a perfect opportunity to step in and lend a helping hand by creating more quality content, through branded content and driving programme makers revenue through product placement as explained by PHD.
The future of branded content is set to be very exciting, entertaining and limitless. We have just seen the start of the world of apps. As brands discover the opportunity that a well-conceived application can genuinely put their brand in the palm of their consumers’ hands, we will see much more creativity and investment in that area.
THE JUGGLING ACT
The sole purpose of advertisements is to promote a product. The purpose of entertainment is to do just as it suggests. Over exposure of a brand can be annoying to viewers while the lack of it defeats the marketing aim. How then do you serve two purposes without throwing the balance off?
“It is definitely an art to juggle both advertising and entertaining objectives in a branded content program. We should bear in mind that the key role of a branded content is to engage the audience, not primarily to maximise reach (although it is good if we are able to). It should be measured against the brand’s impact instead of the frequency that the product appears,” says Andreas.
He goes on, “Maintaining the integrity of the core content is vital. If it’s a TV show, you want to build an audience and loyalty – not irritate people!”
A good strategy would be to use a surrounding halo of integrated communications to build on the core content. This halo can be much more heavily branded without compromising quality.
So in addition to a TV show, for example, use print to tell the behind-the-scenes story, online to create deeper engagement and interaction, contests and events to act as a platform for product demonstration and trial. This is exactly what the ‘FRONT PAGE’ TV series content association with Munchy’s did in 2008.
THE NEXT STEP
Branded Content is a promising future for brand marketing but it is not the be-all and end-all. It is a solution that we will not perfect over night but holds great potential if done right. Successes in this category have been few but great; the ‘Why So Serious’ campaign and ‘Best Job In The World’, to name a few. As the old adage goes, good things never come easy. But greatness is for all who dare to go the extra mile.
SUCCESSFUL LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL BRANDED CONTENT
Locally drama and sitcoms seem very popular among the Malays. Among the branded content programs, Kisah Kaisara by Kotex is a very successful one. It gained an average of 28 TVR among the Malays (15 years old+) and reached up to 33% of the Malays (15+). It is a drama that revolves around a Malay teenage girl and her life.
Globally it has been a leading exponent of branded content for years, building its brand on its creation of extreme sports and extreme sports content. Think about the Red Bull Air Race. In fact, Red Bull’s strategy is almost exclusively built on branded content rather than spot ads.
Road Home with Smiles
A custom-made local travel TV show that encapsulated Esso and Mobil’s brand attributes and tastefully featured the benefits and convenience of Smiles card, i.e. rewards and convenience. Esso and Mobil’s brand tracking indicated new milestone achievement with significantly higher Smiles program awareness. Smiles membership increased 20%, sales 5% and marts patronage 8%.
Munchy’s Front Page
A television series based on real news, in an effort to bring social issues to the public in an entertaining and engaging way. In conjunction with this, accentuating Munchy’s contribution to issues that are real and relevant to society, Munchy’s organised a DeepaRaya celebration and gifts for underprivileged children, and educated them about safety and being responsible citizens. Gracing the event were The Star, NTV7 and Front Page casts. The sponsorship helped associate Munchy’s as a socially responsible company while weaving the brand name into Malaysian households via strong presence in the series.
Awareness spiked immediately after launch and market share went up by 13%.
With the four fold return on investment, Munchy’s dominated the category share-of-spend. No doubt its reputation as an established and caring household biscuit brand has been enhanced.
CONTRIBUTORS to this article:
(an Omnicom Media Group company)
Shel Vei Yong
Omnicom Media Group Malaysia