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Branded Content – The 100 Year Old Category

Branded Content – The 100 Year Old Category

Cannes is approaching and yet again there are more categories. This year Branded Content and Entertainment Lions make an appearance. To the cynics it’s another example of the festival playing to the bloated agency egos in an attempt to extract even more cash from them in the form of entry payments. If you look at the criteria on the festival site it states

“The definition of Branded Content and Entertainment for the purpose of Cannes Lions is the creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand. The purpose of branded entertainment is to deliver marketing messages by engaging consumers via relevant content platforms rather than traditional advertising methods.”

My simple definition would be content that is genuinely useful/entertaining to the viewer/user/participant whilst deliver an underlying core brand message.

It may be a new category in the South of France but branded content isn’t new. That said it’s great that it’s been recognised as a category in itself (it saves us all from having to shoehorn our branded content into another category). Looking back over the years content created by brands has always been around. Soap Operas have to be the Grandmothers of branded content but the Godfather has to be the Michelin restaurant guide, which fittingly enough started life in France. It is probably the earliest and best example. And it’s amazing that it has actually lasted the course (almost 100 years). It works because it fills the gaps between new tyre purchases, something that happens relatively infrequently, to keep Michelin top-of-mind. It gives the reader something useful – the most respected guide to the world’s best restaurants. It reinforces the brand attributes of quality. Their maps are very closely linked to their core products but the restaurant guide is a step away. I think if someone told you today that a tyre manufacturer could become the next authority on fine dining you’d be laughed out of town. Their tyres are a little more expensive than the competition but people pay for the quality and the peace of mind. They have taken that philosophy to their Michelin star program. The star is still the most coveted award for chefs the world over.

We’ve been exploring branded content platforms for the last 5 years. We created Pocket TV for Sony Ericsson in 2008, it was a pop magazine format show in bite-sized chunks designed to be viewed on YouTube on mobile handsets.  I wish the new category had existed then as we discovered Matt Edmonson who has now become a BBC Radio 1 presenter.  The show was genuinely funny with lots of innovative fresh segments. Pocket TV filled the gap on UK terrestrial TV after music shows Top of the Pops and CD UK got canned. Our content was created for mobile and online use originally. It was so popular with 1.5 million YouTube channel views for series one and 3.5 million for series two that Channel 4 took the content and ran it as programming giving it even greater exposure.  Working with a production company in-house we utilised their production expertise and fused it with our brand understanding. It was the quality of the entertaining content that won the broadcaster over.

Out in SXSWi 2012 I saw the guys from P&G America talk about Pantene and their beautiful lengths campaign. Beautiful Lengths supplies real hair wigs to female sufferers who have lost their hair. It is run in conjunction with the American Cancer Society. Last year they donated 12,000 wigs. P&G chose a branded documentary approach as the best way to tell the human stories behind the initiative. The campaign ignited a movement and hair cutting events have sprung up around the states.  The documentary film makers ‘Flow non fiction’, who created the content visited one school where 195 girls had signed up to get their hair cut. The cutting party at the school wasn’t created by them it happened organically so finding that was key. The result is a powerful piece of documentary film making.

In India Spark the Rise is a kickstarter for community driven individuals.  It’s a branded content platform created by the auto maker Mahindra. It links seamlessly with Mahindra’s brand promise ‘Rise’.as it gives individuals the opportunity to submit ideas for the good of the community. The best ones win grants from the platform to action the idea.  So far they have approved 1.470 projects. The website states ”Don’t accept things as they are. Rise to the Change.” It feels like a genuine attempt to action change for the good of the whole country. The ‘content’ in this campaign is the change they have actioned. The people driving down a repaired road funded by Spark The Rise are having the ultimate experience thanks to the brand. http://www.sparktherise.com/

Brands are creating content around causes but there’s been a large scale revolution enabled by technology. This has resulted in a big change in terms of production processes. HD camera technology has allowed quality content to be produced on relatively cost effective budgets. DSLRs from the likes of Canon, new HD cams from Sony and the brilliance of the tiny GoPro cams have all played their part.  Step Inside The Circuit for Johnnie Walker has seen us partner with BAFTA nominated doccie film makers Firecracker. We take people exclusively behind the scenes into the worlds of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. The documentary films we create are delivered to the broadcasters on the Friday so that the content runs as programming on the Saturday or Sunday during race weekend. We create it in an intense 48 hour burst with swift approval processes and the content remains hot and newsworthy. The quality of the films has been commended by broadcasters across the globe and has seen them broadcast it in 130+ countries. Andy Fennel from Diageo will be sharing it along with other examples at the Diageo showcase on Friday at 9.30-10.30

With any of these endeavors you have to think about the human story, the interest and tension points and how to work in a new streamlined way. I love working with an editorial mindset it’s a refreshing way to create. To generate compelling content you should always be asking the question “why will people want to spend time with our content?” I’m looking forward to checking out the entries and will watch with interest to see whether social good content and utility wins over escapist entertainment.

Published Campaign Asia 15th June 2012

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