Branded content: branding without advertising

What can be done to combat consumer advertising fatigue? An interesting option is branded content.

Foto: Netflix International B.V.

Consumers have never really loved advertising. Whether TV commercials, poster advertising, print ads or the wide variety of digital advertising formats, they all have a hard time attracting the attention of their target groups. In the digital world, the increasing popularity of ad blockers shows that intrusive advertising is increasingly being seen as a nuisance. So what else can brands do to reach their potential customers?

The answer is actually quite simple when we look at the environments, in which advertising has taken place so far. It flanks content that informs, advises or entertains consumers. The marketing concept of branded content takes up this aspect but implements it differently. Instead of promoting the brand in the form of ads within content, the brand promotes content that is interesting for the target group. This content is only indirectly related to the brand’s products and does not focus on them. Instead, emphasis is placed on the interests of the consumers.

In addition to conventional text formats, the content can include videos, podcasts, informational graphics or mini-games for the browser. The various options for publishing live content are still relatively new. It is usually created in a cooperation between the brand and the publisher within the framework of the publisher’s content platform.

Although branded content is currently a hot topic due to the popularity of ad blockers, the principle behind it has been around for quite some time. An early example is a news show produced by NBC for Camel as branded content in the USA:

The video streaming service Netflix provides a more recent example. The New York Times published an extensive article explaining to readers why the male prison model no longer suffices in the US due to the increasing number of women being imprisoned. The article, which was indicated as a “paid post”, was intended to support the launch of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”. The show went on to become the most viewed Netflix series ever.

And here’s another interesting example from Germany: the insurance group Hanse-Merkur partnered with the TV station Tele 5 in 2016 and sponsored the popular format “The worst films of all time”. What initially sounded like a bad advertising environment became an exciting combination of branded content and advertising campaign with the claim “together hand in hand, we can survive the worst films of all time” and advertising specifically tailored to the films.

The differences between branded content, native advertising and content marketing

Branded content can quickly be confused with native advertising, because both are categorized as paid media strategies and should not be perceived as blatant advertising. However, the decisive difference lies in the content itself. Native advertising places content about a product or service in an editorial context that is intended to suggest a non-commercial character. With branded content, the connection to the brand is more transparent and clearly established via a claim such as “Sponsored by…” or “Powered by…”. In addition to this, the content in native advertising is often contributed by the brand, while branded content is produced by the publisher.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is the umbrella term used to describe various types of content. Both native advertising and branded content are thus distribution formats of content marketing.

Why don’t we see more branded content?

This model certainly has the potential to enhance the content strategy of many brands, but we don’t see such content very often. Content marketing is much more often distributed via the marketers’ own content hubs. This is probably due to the fact that the brands for branded content have to establish a direct connection to the publishers, from whom they have otherwise simply purchased advertising space. To achieve this, marketing managers have to bring a lot of trust and imagination into the partnership, because they give up a good bit of control and hardly have any experience outside the bounds of performance marketing.

The customer perspective just may be the icebreaker in this regard. They are tired of advertising, but like to be informed and entertained with high-quality content.