The rising tide of branded content


Branded content is a relatively new term and concept. It’s content marketing, but more narrowly refers to a specific type of video content. It’s different from ‘native advertising’ because ‘native’ refers to the canvas the content is placed within, while branded content refers to the nature and objectives of the content itself. It is defined by the viewers’ perception of it more as ‘content’ than ‘advertising’. It’s a relatively new space, and still largely up for grabs in the content ecosystem. Digital and media agencies are taking the lead, either directly (e.g. DAN with its Storylab) or through partnership (e.g. the recent one between GroupM and Buzzfeed).

So how can brands create content which people will choose without perceiving it as advertising, and at the same time achieve their marketing objectives? Here are four interesting examples.

1. Patagonia: Feeding passions with stories

Patagonia has been producing beautiful short films, generally in the form of stories, with clear links to the sports covered in the company’s product lines. The films are immersive, rich of simple values and highly personal, and very lightly branded. They speak to the hearth of a set of viewers with specific passion points, who will go back to the Patagonia channel on a regular basis. Below is one of my favorite short films, The Fisherman’s Son.

2. Blendtec: Will it Blend?

For years, Tom Dickson, founder of Blendtec, has been demonstrating the powerful Total Blender in a viral campaign on YouTube called Will it Blend? Starting with a box of matches, over the years Tom has blended a series of unusual items such as golf balls, marbles, phones, and even an ipad! His videos have impressive shelf life, often amassing several milion views from a large group of followers and near to 1M subscribers on the YouTube channel. For Halloween, in response to a request from his followers to blend his hand, Tom ironically responded with the video below.

3. Ziploc recipes

Ziploc is to sealable plastic backs what Kleenex is to tissues. Most people have bought or used Ziploc, and yet consider it a fairly ‘boring’ and purely functional product. To put the sexy back into the product and expand usage for the category, Ziploc has invested in videos showing how the product can be used in the kitchen and beyond. Cooking is a huge passion point on YouTube, and Ziploc recipes has become an established category, with most of the new videos being uploaded by loyal users. Here is a video playlist on Clever Tips & Tricks using Ziploc (link).

  1.  AT&T: Summer Break

To build affinity with young smartphone users and reposition the brand, AT&T created Summer Break, a YouTube channel with series of wepisodes for a young audience. All the videos and the entire channel are lightly branded, and smartphones are used in all episodes but definitely not in a contrived way. I like this example because for a company like AT&T it definitely takes guts to create videos which almost seem user-generated, like the one below.

If advertising isn’t dead, it’s certainly morphing. The rapid change in the video landscape is driving a form of evolution where generations have been compressed into years or even months. The abundance of video content, adoption of ad blocking software, and fragmentation of people’s attention in a multi-screen world, are driving great urgency for brands to become more relevant to the audience they want to engage with. In a world where the only certain way to be viewed is to be chosen, brands are becoming content machines.


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