What Is Branded Content?

Branded-Content-Blog-Post-2(2)Good question.

“Branded content” is what happens when two already colossal, hazily-defined marketing buzzwords—brand and content—collide to form a conceptual black hole. (See also: Internet of Things, engagement.) We all sort of think we know what the term means, but the closer you get to pinpointing the scope or the significance of it, the more it shifts and defies easy categorization. I’ll demonstrate:

This is obviously branded content, right? How about this? Can branded content parody one another? Can it be about branded content? META.

Take Farmed and Dangerous. Most would agree the Hulu series created by Chipotle is a shining example of branded content, but what about its promo videos—do those count too?

Would you describe a commercial as branded content in its own right, or is it simply a commercial?

What about iconic scenes featuring products? Dennis Hopper’s famous mention of Pabst Blue Ribbon in Blue Velvet may have given the company a second life, but you’d be hard pressed to call this branded content (NSFW):


But what about this? (again, NSFW)

Is fan-created content about a brand in fact “branded content,” or would you consider it something else?

And then there’s this:

What is that—product placement, an ad, or an early example of branded content? Is there a difference? Duration? Context? The era? The distribution method?

Okay, enough questions for now. I’ll tell you what I think: branded content is not so much a fixed idea as it is a lens through which one can approach the substance of marketing. It is a movement that asks us to reevaluate our roles as brand managers and advocates: beyond our duty to promote a product, we have the opportunity to entertain, inform, and create valuable experiences for an audience. Branded content recasts brands as producers and publishers; it puts creativity, not sales, at the forefront of communication between companies and consumers.

And, in many cases, it’s effective. It produces as much as three times more leads than traditional advertising, and drives purchasing decisions, viral reach, and brand loyalty. Branded content works…if you know how to make it.

Coming soon: Branded Content Series

Now that we’ve established what branded content is, it’s onto the fun part: In this four-part series, I’ll take you through:

  1. How branded content fits into the marketing mix
  2. Branded content’s “best in show” reel
  3. How you can get started producing branded content: questions to ask, practical considerations, and dos and don’ts

Come back soon for Part 2, where we’ll look at branded content’s role in your marketing strategy. Or read our recent post about Condé Nast’s 23 Stories platform and whether branded content is right for your organization.

In the meantime, we’d love to see some of your favorite (or not so favorite) examples of branded content. What branded storytelling has surprised and delighted you? What’s failed on every level? Share your picks with us on Twitter: @gradybritton.

Post Date
March 27, 2015
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