Brands and agencies are moving from push tactics and blatant product messaging to content that strives to engage and entertain. PQ Media reports brands’ spending on entertainment has grown about nine per cent annually in the past five years and predicts it will do so this year and next. The US will remain the largest market, but China will grow the fastest, surging 19 per cent year-on-year.
The reasons for the shift are not arbitrary. First, brands must find ways to keep communicating with a fragmenting audience. The proliferation of entertainment devices makes it harder for brands to access large audiences. Appointment TV viewing is dwindling as audiences can choose what they want to watch, when and how. Viewers can fast-forward through ad breaks on personal and digital video recorders. The sheer cost of TV inventory in markets like China and the realisation they can do much more for less spurs brands to experiment with alternative mediums.
So what is branded entertainment? Definitions are loose. SingTel’s director of digital marketing Miguel Bernas — the brains behind the recent ‘#Need4GSpeed’ video campaign — says branded entertainment refers to content that “says something about your brand values and brand persona, as opposed to talking about products and product features, and offers something that consumers want to share”.
Naked Communications global head of analytics Scott Thomson gives it a wider berth, saying it refers to “anything consumers enjoy doing that simultaneously lets them spend some time in the company of a brand”.
The big story in recent years has been in online film and video content. It began with BMW, which pioneered a series of eight short films in the early 2000s called The Hire. Starring A-list actors such as Clive Owen and Gary Oldman and directed by Hollywood heavyweights including Guy Ritchie and Ridley Scott, they generated hundreds of millions of online views.
Numerous global brands have since followed suit. Chanel has produced multiple online short films to build love for its fragrances; Burberry is re-enforcing its new identity with a series of web videos about emerging British bands, called ‘Burberry acoustic’, and Red Bull builds its brand via extreme sports videos and films under the Red Bull Media House banner. But it is no longer just about one-way viewership. As Intel director of brand strategy, integrated and partner marketing Jayant Murty says: “It’s important not to create any rules here. Focus on telling the story and let the format follow”.
Branded entertainment essentially constitutes any diversion beyond a 30-second TV spot. McCann’s ‘Dumb ways to die” was as much about the soundtrack as it was about the cartoon, with the former a hit on iTunes, for example. But increasingly it is about interactivity — the consumer as a participant, a player in his or her own right.
The consumer as central participant
Thomson says this means giving audiences the tools to entertain themselves, while tapping into the concept of “consumer as key actor”. Anthony Freedman, CEO of Sydney-based agency Host, says it is about finding “more interesting ways to enrol consumers to co-create”.
We are no longer passive consumers of funnelled entertainment; we want to be part of the narrative. Branded entertainment is diversifying into various mediums and formats to meet this demand, with gamification and experiential key strategies.
Ogilvy Australia’s celebrated ‘Share a Coke’ campaign — created in conjunction with Naked, Wunderman, Ikon, Fuel, Urban, Momentum and One Green — shone as a beacon of branded gaming. Consumers became participants, seeking out their names on bottles, and could even customise cans in shopping centre promotions. Young adult consumption increased seven per cent over the 2011 summer, prompting Coke to export the campaign to Europe.
Naked’s ‘Steal Banksy’ campaign for Australia’s Art Series Hotels dared guests to try and steal an original piece of street art from the hotel’s walls, with the promise they could keep the art if their theft was successful. The campaign led to major international news coverage, an increase in rooms booked and a 300 per cent return on investment.
Experiential agency Brand Tribe recently partnered with Red Bull in Hong Kong to create branded experience around art. ‘Red Bull curates canvas cooler’ saw Red Bull commission eight artists to customise coolers, which it exhibited in the city. The coolers were then used in restaurants and bars, continuing the message and creativity.
Consumers can also involve themselves in films. Johhny Webb, managing director of Sundog Pictures, which makes branded documentaries, says the company is based on a “social production” model. Webb plans to “lay bare on social media” the entire production process of the next film, which will examine the sex trade, thereby crowdsourcing ideas.
He says a guiding principle is how to “engage people in genuine conversation and then insert the brand in an appropriate way”. He stresses the importance of balance in any branded filmmaking. Where brands naturally focus on the positive aspects of their story, they should also consider that such stories are not always engaging since they are not reflective of real life and hence fail to connect with people on an emotional level.
Fast video content
Interactivity also drives a new breed of online video. Singaporean telco SingTel caused a huge stir with its recent series of short comedy films starring comedian Hossan Leong. To build interest in its 4G service, SingTel asked fans for scenarios in which they needed speed then improvised skits in a real-time Twitter campaign over the course of a day. The campaign encouraged conversation around 4G, with the #Need4GSpeed hash tag trending on Twitter for two days and the company seeing a 40 per cent spike in traffic to SingTel’s 4G website.
“I believe the kind of branded content that will succeed in the future will be the kind where the consumer is part of the creation process,” says Bernas. “This is why SingTel’s #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes worked so well: our consumers were very much a part of the story.”
Similarly, Intel and Toshiba stole the show at Cannes this year with their ‘The Beauty Inside’ online video series — a story about a man named Alex who wakes up each day in a different body, with his inner beauty the only thing that stays constant. The brands invited the audience through social channels to audition online to play the many faces of Alex. Fans could also interact with Alex on Facebook in between episodes. The films attracted more than 70 million online views.
Asia Sponsorship News CEO Ben Heyhoe Flint points to Subaru’s ‘The big night’ campaign as another stellar initiative. This interactive online film allowed the audience to decide how the story progressed by clicking on different options at different points in the film, drawing them in and making them active players.
Tourism Western Australia’s ‘1,001 extraordinary experiences’ campaign took things a step further by using interactive entertainment to prompt immediate purchases. To raise the profile of Western Australia, Host and Tourism WA invited consumers to submit an image of an extraordinary experience they had enjoyed in Western Australia via Facebook and then edited the best 1,001 submissions into a film. Each frame of the film is ‘clickable’, allowing the viewer to see when, where and by whom the image was captured and to read a quote about the experience. The viewer can then click to find out more about that place and click again to book, thereby directly impacting sales.
But it is not just below-the-line channels that are embracing the concept. Broadcast networks and their clients also bank on consumer involvement, with brand partnerships becoming far more integrated and dynamic, says Christine Fellowes, Asia-Pacific MD at NBC Universal Networks.
Diva Universal’s Fashion Star recently partnered with clothing giant H&M to bring winning designs from the show into stores the very next day. On the Diva Universal show Supermodelme Femme Fatale, viewers can watch episodes while searching the Supermodelme website to find out where they can buy the outfits.
Such a proliferation of formats makes matters both exciting and challenging. With so many brands vying to entertain, standing out becomes a key challenge. While we hear about the projects that work, much else is lost in the clutter.
Not all ‘entertainment’ entertains
Thomson points to a growing amount of “branded content landfill”. “We have to avoid a gold rush mentality,” he insists. Just because brands can create entertainment, it doesn’t mean they should. If they do, they need to abide by some key rules.
Brands should ask themselves whether audiences will see them as credible players in the entertainment area of focus. Does the type of content the brand wants to create actually resonate with the target demographic? It is essential to have a structured approach and put global datasets to use. Then the brand must find ways to get users involved with co-creating, sharing and commenting, says Freedman.
As for measurement, Thomson stresses it can be troublesome. While a lot of branded content platforms are digital, and thereby lend themselves to easy metric collection, things get complicated when you have to look at a piece of content in an integrated manner. The key is to make sure brands have the breadth in the right kinds of data that reflect strategic objectives and the right depth of metrics that help them stitch it all together.
Key measures of success should be the same as any form of marketing communications: change in attitude and behaviour, resulting in increased sales, share and volume, says Freedman. Brand-specific measures such as brand health, attitudes, disposition and consideration are also relevant, as are soft measures such as audience reach and participation.
As for the power of branded content in Asia-Pacific, the opportunities are seemingly endless. Brand Tribe’s founder and MD Sarah Oullette says brands in the region are only just starting to understand the power of authentic branded experiences. “There is a celebrity culture here that has dominated a lot of strategy,” she says. “My sense is that brands are starting to see that they need to change tack in order to really connect with consumers.”
The sector’s evolution will be in line with that of its audiences, meaning it is likely to become more sophisticated in a relatively short space of time. As clients realise the power of subtlety, pull back on aggressive ‘sell’ tactics, give their creatives more freedom and reposition their consumers as participants, the advertising world is set for a revolution.
OPINION Advertising must make itself desirable
John Mescall, ECD, McCann Worldgroup Melbourne
At times I question the wisdom of the branded entertainment discussion. I say this because I believe we live in an age in which convergence has almost completely obliterated the boundaries between all communications disciplines.
In short, I have no idea where advertising stops and branded content begins. Because everything is advertising, and advertising can be absolutely anything.
Our goal should be to so completely integrate a brand idea into popular culture and social currency, that the messaging never really feels like advertising.
Or at least, the old understanding of what advertising is: namely, something that interrupts the entertainment. In a world where we can choose whether or not to consume advertising, it’s abundantly clear that we can no longer be the interruption (albeit even an entertaining interruption). We must create messaging with such high levels of utility, entertainment or relevance that we are chosen, rather than tolerated.
What I’m saying is that advertising will soon cease to exist in its own little world. And that everything — every single thing — we create can, and should, be considered ‘branded content’.
So branded content isn’t really a term I use, because I figure it’s just what advertising is now. Rather than a new genre, it’s simply the new normal.
FORUM Quick lessons for successful branded entertainment
The most important thing for clients is to always look for creative integration. As we all have very diversified media consumption, all our major deals involve a deep level of integration. Our series Jason Down Under, for example, ran on air, in print, online and even in flight.
—Anne Chan, GM of LiTV
Communication is key. It manages expectations, gets both sides on common objectives, helps avoid potential disasters and is crucial for a successful relationship that has a better chance of lasting longer than a single season.
—Charles Less, head of advertising sales, AETN All Asia Networks
We see a greater level of sophistication as clients look to align brand with partner channel/programme attributes. Work with media partners who share your brand values and make the top priority creating great content.
—Kevin Dickie, SVP of content, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific
Viewers are savvy enough to recognise branded content these days. Choose a media partner that engages your target audience and work with them to create and execute a concept that is relatable and connects with your audience.
—Christine Fellowes, MD Asia-Pacific, Universal Networks International
COMMENT Purpose-driven entertainment addresses new demands
Derek Oliver, global marketing director, Jacob’s Creek
Branded entertainment is a popular marketing catchphrase, but it’s important to step back and ask why brands are investing more in it and what role it can play in overall strategy.
Consumer behaviour and media consumption are evolving as fast as you can say ‘smartphone’ or ‘tablet’. It’s not just technology, but also changes in lifestyles, whether relating to more affluence in the middle classes of emerging markets or being more time-poor in developed ones.
Furthermore, brand communications are evolving to brands emotively trying to connect with people’s lives. Purpose-driven brand building is how strong consumer-led brands and companies are reacting to the evolution in how consumers want to engage with brands.
As a result, branded entertainment becomes more relevant as consumers seek more two-way conversation with brands. More traditional advertising forms still remain important, but no doubt there is a shift.
Two examples at Jacob’s Creek highlight the effectiveness of global or locally driven branded entertainment. The ‘Open film series featuring Andre Agassi’ has rolled out successfully to many markets across the globe, while the ‘Reserve for friends’ campaign was developed by our
local Australian marketing team as part of a greater integrated platform.