A Brief History of Branded Content – Part 2

wall of Coke, an example of a company using branded content marketing
Video production professionals encounter buzz words like branded content a lot. Check out examples of when it’s done right and learn more about how it’s used today.

Okay, to quickly recap from Part 1, here’s what we know so far about branded content and its unconventional history. Branded content is media content that appeals to a consumer’s emotions and is focused on building a brand’s image. This type of marketing originates back to the 1930s when brand-sponsored radio plays — which eventually were classified as “soap operas” — were aired across major radio stations in the hopes of winning the consumer loyalty of American housewives.

All caught up? Excellent, because we still have a lot to cover.

How big is branded content now?

Though you might not realize it, branded content has been around you, been a part of your life, for probably about as long as you can remember. P&G’s radio soap operas might have been the first of their kind, but there have been countless other iterations that followed their lead:

  • The Guinness Book of World Records was first published in 1955 and they have published a revised edition almost every year since then.
  • In 1982, Hasbro & Marvel teamed up to publish G.I. Joe Comics, the first in a long line of toy-inspired marketing strategies.
  • 1990 saw the grand opening of The World of Coca-Cola, a history museum dedicated totally to the history, tradition, and branding of Coca-Cola.

And these are just a few choice examples. When you think about it, branded content is a whole lot like Kanye West. It’s everywhere, and no matter where you look you’ll probably come across some of it. Sometimes it can be abrasive, especially when its message is muddled or derisive. But when it’s done right, when it really strikes a chord, it really can be a thing of genius that moves people, even shakes them to their core.

What’s crazy, though, is that it’s only getting bigger. According to a recent analysis by Google Trends, interest in branded content has been exponentially increasing since 2011. But, in Q4 of 2015, it hit a 20% spike, growing as much in one quarter as it had over the previous two years! If these numbers tell us anything, it’s that branded content (like Kanye) is hot, hot, HOT, and it’s only gonna get hotter.

What are some good examples of branded content?

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Mr. Gates was right when he prophesied that, “Content is King.” The budgets that major brands spend each year on content is all the proof you need. Not all content is created equal, though. Some spots really hit home with consumers, while others fall a bit flat, or worse yet miss the mark. To give you an appropriate gauge on what good branded content looks like, though, here are a couple of exemplary spots:

1) The Hire by BMW Films (2001)

Though brand-sponsored programs like the P&G’s soap opera As the World Turns can be traced back all the way to the 50s, it was The Hire that first gained the classification as a piece of branded content. Revolutionary for its time, The Hire was a series of eigh short films, each directed by a different A-list creative, and centered around a hero known simply as the Driver (Clive Owen). Each short film took the Driver around the globe, and highlighted various features of BMW cars. These short films were not only fine works of cinema and an enviable piece of branded content, but their stories were organic and compelling, a big reason why they’re still talked about over a decade since their first release.

All of these shorts are amazing, but if I had to recommend just one, it would be “Powder Keg, the 5th short in the series. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (yes, the same dude who later directed Birdman & The Revenant), and starring Stellan Skarsgaard & Lois Smith alongside Owen, it is something to be admired.

2) “Real Beauty Sketches” by Dove (2013)

Oh man, get the tissues ready because this one’s a doozy! One of the more applaudable campaigns in recent memory has been Dove beauty products’ “Real Beauty” campaign. By addressing the elephant in the room about female body image and encouraging women across the globe to be happy and confident in their own skin, Dove has gained a great deal of consumer loyalty.

Of all the great bits of content in this campaign, arguably the most moving is a spot entitled “You’re More Beautiful Than You Think.” This piece acts as a case study that illuminates how overly critical women are about their own appearance by juxtaposing two sketches: one drawn from women’s descriptions of themselves, and another from a stranger’s description of them. The resulting content is as sincere as it is touching and thought-provoking. Moreover, it was extremely successful for the brand. With over 70 million views, it was the most watched piece of branded content in 2013, as well as the 3rd most shared.

3) The Beauty Inside by Intel/Toshiba (2012)

This has to be one of the coolest, most inventive approaches to branded content ever. The Beauty Inside is essentially a feature length film told over the span of six full episodes and a series of interactive story pieces posted on Facebook. As if that doesn’t sound wild enough, wrap your head around the film’s plot. The film’s narrative follows a main character named Alex, whose consciousness wakes up in a different body every day. Alex lives a wild, albeit manageable life, until he falls in love. From there, Alex must navigate from body to body to try and win over the woman that he loves.

The premise alone is enough to peak the interest of a lot of people. But it’s the way that Intel/Toshiba tells the story that makes it so ingenious. In addition to the six main episodes, Alex’s experience is told through real-time conversations on his “official” Facebook page. Already this is taking audience interactivity to another level, but, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Intel/Toshiba also encouraged the audience to submit videos of themselves playing the part of Alex, giving the protagonist’s perspective as if he was living behind their eyes. The results were astounding, giving the film a cast of literally hundreds of “Alexes” and also garnering the film a Daytime Emmy.

As these examples show, when done right, branded content can be an enrapturing, engaging experience. It might not always have gone by the name it has today, but it has been around for almost a century, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. And if “content is king,” but “not all content is created equal,” how can you navigate this fine line and create media that can both move and win over consumers?

The answer is simple: find a trusted creative source and a kick-ass team to infuse your brand with emotion. Brands, agencies, and production companies alike know that branded content is integral to any company’s success, and a good team can go a long way in getting you there. Teams like the one here at ECG Productions, where we pride ourselves on amazing content that’s on the leading edge of the market, which, let’s face it, is exactly where every brand wants to be.

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