Branded content is a powerful marketing technique that can elicit emotions in its consumers, build trust between consumer and brand, and increase brand revenue. If done well, it can be extremely effective, but it often receives a negative connotation as skeptics wonder if the hyper-dramatized content often associated with it, is working only for the better of the brand. But is that always the case? What is branded content and can it do for both the brand and consumer? 
We’ll define the technique, what it’s not, and get into some of the best examples from the last few years. And then you can determine if they’re the types of campaigns you’d like to run for your next project.

What is Branded Content?

What's branded content and why does it work so well?

Marketing techniques and advertising practices change constantly, and in this new landscape, most people have a very low tolerance for anything that sounds even close to a sales pitch. Branded content does something a bit different. So, what is it anyway?

Branded Content Definition

What is branded content?

Branded content is content that is linked to a brand that allows consumers to make a connection with that brand. It is a marketing technique that does not involve traditional advertising. Its purpose is to drive engagement through content and often exists in mediums such as videos, podcasts, articles, and even live events. Branded content does not focus on the actual product as it does the quality of the brand itself.

The content usually tells a story, evokes an emotional response, is entertaining, or is making a social statement. Branded content is less focused on sale conversion and more interested in creating conversation around the brand. It is not a sales pitch nor is it an invasive form of marketing. Because branded content appears more consumer focused, trust can be built between the consumer and the brand, becoming a very effective marketing technique.

What can branded content marketing do?

  • Engages through emotion or entertainment
  • Implements storytelling 
  • Makes a social statement
  • Uses multiple mediums (including live events)
  • Highlights brand’s values, building consumer trust

Design and Art Direction, or D& AD, is a British educational charity that celebrates global creatives in the design and advertising communities. Below is a preview of some of the best branded content campaigns in the world, and why they’re so impactful.

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Emotionally Charged Storytelling

Branded content avoids side-by-side competitor comparison, instead it tells emotionally driven stories to engage with consumers. These stories often lead to the next aspect.

Makes a Social Statement

In this political climate, brands have found incredible success in connecting with people’s primal needs and values. This is also where branded content gets a bad wrap. Is it just pretending to care? 

While insincerity is an obvious possibility, many brands do try and make a statement about topics they actually believe in. When the content is in video format, this is especially impactful because it allows for more visible inclusion and diversity, at a level we have never seen in mainstream marketing. It also doesn’t hurt that 61% of millennials feel a personal responsibility to make the world better, and so they’re much more likely to shop with a brand that shares their values. You’ll see some examples in the next section. 

Uses Multiple Mediums

Branded content can take many forms from videos, podcasts, video games, events, and even interactive mediums like virtual reality. It’s easily accessible and can be quickly spread through social media. 

Use Live Events

Any company, no matter what size or status can achieve success using branded content for their events. Interviews, footage, speeches, or any other content gathered from live events can be used on your own company’s site as a form of branded content. This works as advertising for you but it also may get you more attention and attendees to your next event. 

Builds Consumer Trust

One way to build trust with consumers is to humanize yourself. How? Show real people engaging with your brand. 89% of millennials say they trust testimonials from real people more than the brands themselves.  

As mentioned, if the user of the brand gives their two cents, this is likely to build trust if many professionals appear to be embracing the brand. Co-creating is common with branded content. And as we can see, it doesn’t always have to be big names partnering with other big names, (though that happens very often).

Also, because branded content is more emotional and less sales pitchy, that alone builds consumer trust. 

If all, or most, of the above mentioned are checked off, branded content can be very effective. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most powerful branded content from the last few years. What are they implementing to engage their consumers?

Branded Content Examples

Successful branded content campaigns

The content that works best is the content that hits on all points - it tells an emotional, meaningful story that has lasting impact.

Below are some of the best examples of branded content that have come out over the last several years. As you’ll see the medium of the content will vary, but it’s the impact it has on the viewer that seems fairly consistent. And that consistency is of a compelling variety that makes this content some of the best branded content to date. 

Getting Real with Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

I’m going to start with a fairly popular branded content example - The Dove Real Beauty campaign that started in 2004. The entire campaign centered around the idea that “beauty was for everyone” after Dove researched a kind of disturbing statistics that only 4% of women consider themselves “beautiful.” Wanting this sad stat to change, and to make a difference in women’s lives, they managed to use it to their advantage making for an incredibly lucrative campaign. Their sales increased from 2.5 to 4 billion in just three years. 

But I want to highlight one video from the campaign, in particular. It comes from 2013, and it really stuck out to me.

The video included an FBI sketch artist who asked several women to describe themselves, physically. He listened to each woman and drew them based on their descriptions. The FBI sketch artist then listened to how a stranger described that same woman. The difference between the drawings were often astounding. The video went viral and hit about 50 million views in under two weeks. Now, it’s up to about 180 million views. You can watch it below.

Dove 2013 Real Beauty Sketches

I have a connection to this first one for many reasons, but also because I really remember it. That may seem funny but I really remember it.

The amount of ads and other content I consume in a given day makes this a little rare. 

Emotional Storytelling, The New York Times & VR
The New York Times is very active in branded content campaigns. In fact, in November 2015, they became a front runner in implementing the technique. They created a  virtual reality application for its users, giving them access to an incredibly cinematic VR story called, The Displaced. The chilling story about refugees highlighted the pains of millions of families and children across war-ridden regions, and was a piece of genuine art and social commentary within a branded content campaign. You can watch The Displaced below.

Virtual reality story: The Displaced

Social Awareness, Netflix and The New York Times

During the first year of Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, Netflix wrote an article about women inmates in the United States prison system, and the challenges they experience while being incarcerated. While this article touched upon the show, it didn’t focus on it.

Instead, the article was a way to garner interest in the topic amongst the 1 million Times’ readers who saw it, effectively bringing more viewers to the show. 

Marvel: Co-Creating for Entertainment

Another branded content campaign comes from the collaboration of several, very unrelated, companies. Marvel, the ride sharing company, Lyft, as well as Hulu, partnered up to create the Marvel Runaway Series. This may seem like an odd partnership but sometimes the market demands a bit more than a quick one-off collaboration.

All three helped to create engaging, entertaining content, while increasing all three of their revenues. Watch the Season 2 trailer below.

Even an original series can be branded content

Rethinking the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

Branded content isn’t always successful because it’s emotionally driven. Victoria’s Secret, the infamous American lingerie company, has a continual branded content campaign that has taken on a life of its own. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is a gala of the garments - it’s a highly anticipated annual event showcasing outrageous attire that is hardly product placement. While the models wear the lingerie, the event has become such a pop culture staple, it is much more than traditional advertising, and stays one of the best examples of live event branded content to date.

Some branded content can become iconic

However, this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has been cancelled. Why? Well, there are a lot of rumors flying around, but it all comes back to branding. This is a great example of how to use branded content when consumer’s values are no longer in line with your content. Do you stop the show all together? Try and reframe it, or simply just take it off cable television and make people subscribe for it.

If consumer's values change, branding follows suit

This last spring, (May 2019), the Times reported that the show would no longer air on television. CEO, Les Wexner told CNBC that the company was “rethinking” the show in favor of a “new kind of event.” I guess we’ll soon see what that looks like.

Early Campaign Considerations

Using branded content 

If you’re even a little inspired to start a branded content campaign, here are some quick tips to get you started.

Goal Set

I know it sounds mundane and “you’ve heard it before,” but make your goals as clear as possible by asking yourself the right questions. What is the purpose of this campaign, what is the objective? What are you trying to solve? Or simply, what message are you trying to send? Do you have ROI goals, some number you’d like to hit? Throw that all in the brainstorming stage. 

Developing a Story or Concept

Every campaign is different, and you’ll likely be working with many other heads to get this done. But again, hopefully everyone in the room is asking themselves and each other, what kind of story do they want to tell, who is the audience, what are the brand’s values, and why does this matter? This step will take time and is incredibly specific to whatever the campaign is. 

There are tools that make this process easier, especially when it comes to collaboration and goal setting. If you use StudioBinder’s production calendar and workflow tool, you can manage any campaign, all in one program, and assign tasks as needed.

View production calendar

You can try this powerful project management software to keep your tasks, documents, conversations, and collaborations in one place. As straightforward as it is simple, you'll never have to dig through fragmented emails, files, and notes.

Branded Content Marketing Association

Get some extra help from the BCMA

The Branded Content Marketing Association is an incredible resource for learning more about branded content. The BMCA is an organization run by advertising pros. The organization hosts workshops, events, and gives us great insight into industry professionals.  

What may be most helpful to you, is the service they provide called the Content Monitor. This is an online tool that determines better ways to run your campaign. It also gives case studies on branded content.

Here are some of the features:

Helps determine your return on investment (ROI) by researching how your campaign is performing against key brand metrics.

It lets you know which parts of your campaign are the strongest, and it shows you different tactics for optimizing your ROI. 

If you’re new to this, don’t let the competition scare you. Branded content can be a powerful tool, and anyone with a value for people and perspective can create an effective campaign.

Up Next

Kickstart Your Social Media Ads

Just because branded content is often more effective than generic ads, there are ways to make those ads, well, less generic. If you want to expand your business, no matter the size, social media is probably already your go-to. If it’s not, it probably should be. The next post provides some insight into how to jump start your advertising across multiple key platforms.

Up Next: Kickstart Social Media Ads →
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  • Alyssa Maio is a screenwriter from New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles. She works as a copywriter here at StudioBinder.

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