Branded content

Seomphony - Branded content - Photo by Artem Kovalev

What is branded content?

Branded content is technically about articles, videos, podcasts, images and live elements that are designed to serve your clients in every stage of their customer journey and to behave according to your brand guidelines at the same time.

It is not advertising in the traditional sense of commercials, banner ads, social media ads, etc. The key is to drive real engagement through content that educates, informs and/or entertains your audience.

Engagement is created through a story. The story must place your target audience in the center while your product or service takes a “supporting” role. By doing so, your target audience can see the kind of people they want to identify with. They need to see themselves in your stories.

Cultural Imprinting is acceptable in this context as long as all artifacts in the story carry the same meaning the target audience wants to communicate to their peers.

Examples of branded content

  • The whole term of “branded content” got conceived after in 2001 after the introduction of the series “The Hire”. Produced by BMW, each of the eight-part episodes, directed by an international filmmaker, revolved around a narrative. The true objective, however, was to highlight the performance capabilities of various BMW vehicles.
  • General Electric regularly publishes content for their content hub “GE Reports”. It tells stories related to GE’s industry, featuring articles from different voices. You can experience content about innovation, digital transformation, and also GE business, and no advertising of their products.
  • T Brand Studio published this article for Netflix before “Orange is the new black” went live. The piece mentioned nothing about Netflix’ services or products in a traditional advertising sense, but it did provide original insight into the topic of female inmates — a topic that also serves as the main focus of a Netflix original series. Instead of spending on a banner ad telling people to watch the new series, Netflix put their resources towards getting a piece of content in front of the eyes of over 1 million New York Times readers.
  • One of the most successful branded content campaigns to date has been Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”. Dove’s research had initially revealed that only 4% of women polled described themselves as “beautiful”. A message called “beauty is for everyone” was conceived. It was delivered in the form of videos that featured an FBI sketch artist drawing women as they described themselves. Then, the artist drew portraits of the same women, but the descriptions were given by strangers, resulting in the difference between the two sketches often being breathtaking. The campaign was the most watched branded content in 2013.

The recent branded content campaigns include

The History of Branded Content

Branded content is not a new trend. Already in the 40s it was common for shows to have a specific sponsor, or even for a brand to create their own content.

In the 1970s, brands like Proctor and Gamble created and sponsored their own soap operas.

Today, companies and organisations approach sponsorship through their social responsibility programs, and content can include podcasts, videos, web series, articles, and even virtual reality.

Why Branded Content Works Better Than Traditional Advertising

  1. It has been found that 60-90% of TV viewers and people online skip advertising. Viewers and visitors are increasingly aware of the techniques being used and sophisticated enough to seek for more meaningful experiences than mere advertisements. When done well, branded content can very well respond to this demand.
  2. A study by Forbes and IPG Media found that branded content consumers found branded content 2X more memorable than display ads.
  3. Nielsen found that branded content outperforms pre-roll across several KPIs, e.g. Affinity, Intent, and Recall .

Is branded content for you?

The first thing to understand is that branded content is different from content marketing. The latter focuses on your products and services and may more or less facts based. The former puts your audience in the centre of the experience and uses emotions. You have to get comfortable with showing your audience to your audience through a story that for example touches one of the four core human emotions and places your product or service as one element of the experience.

Also, you need to consider these five keys to successful branded content, by Nielsen

Finally, you can use Studiobinder’s proposal for creating the campaign project:

  1. Set campaign goals
  2. Develop and entertaining idea
  3. Produce the content & launch

What is disguised marketing?

Seomphony - Disguised Marketing - Photo by Marcela Laskoski

Marketing comes in many forms.

The most obvious is the billboard outside, the loud radio ad and the overacted TV commercial.

They underestimate your intelligence and try to be funny, but end up being annoying.

Then there’s Cost based Advertizing: “Buy now! Cheap! 19.95. Only today!”.

You see it everywhere. It serves the basic survival needs. The only differentiating factor is the price.

Third: Emotional Inception.

You see happy people drinking Coke so you assume that drinking coke makes you happy.

This is higher up on the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it works by encouraging you to think that using product X will produce result Y.

Last, let’s not forget Cultural Imprinting.

Cultural Imprinting also works through mass media by communicating a message that you can choose to convey to your friends and peers in a shared space of meaning.

For example, as a “chill” person wanting to socialize with other “chill” persons, you may want to own a special pair of “chill” sneakers, because an advertisement positioned those latest pair of sneakers as an item for “chill” people.

That works as a means of social recognition. You want to maximize the number of social interactions with like minded people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We want to belong.

Disguised marketing lets your customers choose and communicate the meaning

But you have a sophisticated product and your consumers are equally sophisticated.

They are educated and informed and they are doing their own research, following those people and brands that complement their sense of self-realization, and not your sales targets.

They walk their own paths, create their own meanings and stand proud as individuals. They don’t share their experiences with masses but to a few selected individuals. They don’t maximize the number of social interactions but form a few high-quality ones.

Still, you’d like to raise the awareness of your brand, help visitors compare your value offering with those of your competitors, help potential customers decide and service them afterward.

You could try Product Placement by, for example, placing Aston Martins in James Bond movies. Not a big deal, you know they are there already before the movie because that’s what James Bond did in the books, too. But your customers probably don’t watch Hollywood blockbusters.

There’s Guerrilla Marketing that grabs attention in surprising ways, for example with a flash mob, unannounced. It’s fun and the post-mob video may go viral. But Guerrilla Marketing tries to maximize shock value. Your customers don’t move in masses.

There’s also Content Marketing that, when done well, does educate people with valuable “How to” type of articles. But eventually, they will start sending you special offers based on your interests.

Enter Disguised Marketing

Disguised marketing is indirect. It’s marketing that doesn’t look like marketing. It happens within another context than your brand, website or marketing material itself.

Here are some examples.

It may be an online story, where your products are carefully placed in the visual imagery or storyline as objects or themes. But: no special attention is paid to them. The characters may use the objects as any other, but just because they happened to be around. A brand name may be mentioned in a conversation. A scene may happen in front of a storefront. A person may use a service in a scene, but casually, like any other. No tone of voice, facial expression or other element gives away anything out of the ordinary.

Timing is important here. As soon as the camera follows anything else than the story or the timing of an action related to an object is different from the rest of the story choreography, the viewer will figure out that something’s up.

It can be a YouTube video channel of a lifestyle vlogger, where he/she casually mentions a brand every now and then. But it has to be because the vlogger sincerely enjoys the product or service, and not because it was the one that offered the biggest bribe. Humans can spot fake enthusiasm.

Disguised Marketing can also be in the form of a tangential content site that publishes cat videos and occasionally drops a link to your main site. For example, a luggage retailer could publish country-specific travel guides.

Finally, the traditional link building may be considered disguised marketing. You can, for example, search for discussion forums and social media interactions about a specific topic or industry, get involved and mention your main site in a suitable context. But once again, the key is to remain natural.

Disguised Marketing is an investment

Respect your customers. Act like a human, not like a sales robot. Build links, but don’t be mechanical. Participate in discussions, but don’t sell it. Tell a story.

Disguised Marketing is an investment. Anybody can say “Hey there! Look at this! Good! Cheap! Buy now!”. But that is medieval market square noise.

Your customers are more intelligent. They have a strong “psychological immune system“, avoid being manipulated and don’t do what everyone else is doing.

With Disguised Marketing you can present them several different messages that they can themselves choose from.

Seomphony 2021