What Is Branded Content? (Why It Rocks & How It’s Done!)

December 30, 2019 | Sean Foo

Branded Content: The Definition

Branded content is simply content that is created to drive awareness and engagement with the brand without any elements of traditional advertising that involve directly pushing their brand or product.

The aim of branded content is to cut through the noise and information overload of today’s consumer world in a way that is natural and adds value to an audience – making them curious and engaged enough to learn more about the brand or associate the brand with certain feelings and values.

The LEGO Movie Branded Content On The Big Screen

Featuring a memorable hero’s journey story of good versus evil, the LEGO movie was a smashing success for the LEGO brand which saw their sales rise by 15% just after the release of the film.

Selling toys is a tough business and competing today would mean going beyond just advertising how cool and colorful they are – you will need to associate them with the cultural happenings of today while weaving together a captivating and imaginative story and a world that goes beyond the brand.

Filled with childhood-rekindling nostalgia targeting parents to flashy effects and creative use of the Legos to play out a modern cinema narrative, the Lego Movie is an example of a well-planned branded content that places the entertainment of their audience first and the brand association second – even though the movie has the word ‘Lego’ in it.

Branded Content Can Be A Video-series, Podcast Or Even An Indoor Waterfall!

Branded content revolves around providing entertainment value, teaching niche-focused knowledge and showcasing industry insights and these can be produced and distributed across a variety of platforms that include:

– A YouTube Video Series

– An Industry Blog

– A Feature Film

– A Music Video

– A Podcast Series

– An Exhibition Showcase

– and more!

GE Reports Branded Content Winning Big

Making the list of best-branded content in 2015, GE Reports is a branded content blog launched by GE to bring to audiences interested in technology, aviation, innovation and energy everything from in-depth insights on a topic to reporting on major breakthroughs.

The blog focuses on sourcing for and delivering quality content that frames the brand as an industry authority with little self-promotion.

In fact, many of their stories are so newsworthy that they have been shared virally such as their article: “Lettuce See the Future: LED Lighting Helps Farming Go High-Tech In Japan” that has been shared on Reddit, making it into the ‘Best Of 2014’ list while sparking over 2,200 comments worth of conversations and over a million views on the article!

Jewel Airport’s Rain Vortex An In-Person Experience

Not every branded content is confined into the digital realm and goes beyond just reading or watching content on a screen.

HSBC teamed up with Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore as the naming rights partner of the world’s tallest indoor waterfall – the HSBC Rain Vortex. Spanning from the top of the development’s roof, the waterfall cascades down 7 stories and streams down to the basement encased in a soundproof glass viewing feature for visitors to marvel at.

With a spectacular Light & Sound show running four times a day using the Rain Vortex as a stage and screen, this is branded content that is experiential – making it come alive and go beyond just the digital.

Oh, and for HSBC, they are associated with an icon that is part of a world-class airport that has been viewed by over 50 million visitors in just 6 months of its opening – how’s that for traffic!


Enter The Era Of Branded Content

While traditional advertising, from banner to social media ads, won’t entirely die off, it is increasingly becoming replaced with content that is non-intrusive and adds value that the viewer appreciates.

Instead of viewers just skipping through your intrusive YouTube ads (admit it, you skip them too), businesses are seeing it as more worthwhile to create a branded content video series that engages your audience with a topic or a narrative that they are actually interested about.

The ROI & Benefits Of Branded Content Is Clear

How effective is branded content? Is the investment worth the upfront cost?

While branded content has seen an explosion of investment from major brands including Netflix and Starbucks, it is one strategy that is effective and is paying dividends:

– Branded content results in a stronger brand recall; an 86% brand recall versus a 65% brand recall rate from a standard pre-roll advertisement.

– Viewers of branded content are 14% more likely to seek out additional content from the same brand that they are consuming.

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Massive Results From Branded Content

As one of the world’s most successful branded content campaigns, Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches video has been viewed more than 180 million times with over 4.6 billion media impressions worldwide.

Focusing on delivering a message of empowerment to women and challenging today’s seemingly unattainable standards of beauty, Dove created a powerful video that featured an FBI agent who drew sketches of women whose descriptions were given by complete strangers versus descriptions that were given by the women themselves.

Showcasing a powerful message of self-confidence, this branded content had nothing directly connected to Dove or its products. 

However, the content impacted viewers to such a degree that the brand was forever associated with this message of empowerment and positive self-esteem – boosting their sales from $2.5 billion to $4 billion within a year after the campaign launch.


Isn’t Branded Content Part Of Content Marketing?

Yes…but with a specific agenda.

According to Content Marketing Institute’s definition of content marketing: content marketing is a strategic approach of content creation and distribution for a clearly defined audience with the end goal to drive sales and profit.

We agree 100% with this, but let us clarify further.

Content marketing is about creating valuable content that helps a clearly defined audience with their challenges with the purpose of building brand trust and moving the consumer closer towards conversion.

While branded content is more about spreading brand awareness far and wide while spurring engagement with viewers.

Here’s The Difference Between Content Marketing & Branded Content

Think of it this way, if you are running a company selling productivity software for companies, the content marketing approach would be to create a blog that covers topics such as ‘51 ways to maximize employee productivity’ and ‘7 strategies to ensure your team is always punctual’.

Helpful content that tackles fully specific problems your reader will have that is tied to your business and something your solution can solve.

While the branded content approach can be creating a video series about 5 entrepreneurs and how they struggled to build their multi-million dollar businesses from scratch – it has no direct link to your business.

See the difference?


Branded Content Is About Linking Your Brand To A Feeling & A Set Of Values

It is about being associated with the content or story you are showcasing to the world. 

These can be anything from a sense of adventure to community building, depending on what you want your viewers to associate your brand with.

Upstanders By Starbucks Associating Their Brand With The Community

Reaching more than 60 million people, Starbucks’s first original branded content video series, Upstanders, revolves around stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to improve their communities and bring about positive change.

Covering various stories of heroic individuals and groups that fight for the betterment of their neighborhoods and communities, Starbucks associates their brand with positive social impact and the community at large.


Branded Content Often Involve Partnerships

While it is common to see brands producing their own exclusive content to reach new audiences, many are starting to see the wisdom of partnering with other companies to create something unique and appealing.

One great example is the Marvel series, Runaways that is created by Hulu and sponsored by Lyft, the ride-hailing service.

Marvel’s Runaways A Branded Content Collaboration

Starring teenagers whose parents are super-villains and they themselves possessing superpowers, Runaways is all about entertaining the target audience, Gen-Z and the Millenials through branded content crafted around the superhero universe.

With no impact on the story-telling or plot, Lyft’s only brand presence happens when the main characters travel around the city using Lyft. 

Subtle, but constantly reinforced, Lyft associates their brand with a narrative that is hip, cool and natural to the audience they are targeting.

Behind The Shot A BMW & National Geographic Collaboration

Sponsored by BMW, Behind The Shot’s branded content brings with it powerful storytelling of adventure, wild-life issues and the human spirit captured by National Geographic’s photographers.

BMW here subtly raises brand awareness with their vehicles driven by the photographers across the nation as they travel to capture impactful stories from a baby donkey with a prosthetic leg to the life of an avalanche rescue dog.


Branded Content Can Be Produced For The Audience Of Another Media

Branded content doesn’t have to be confined onto just a business’s own blog or video channel – it can also be produced for an external audience of a third-party publication.

While this will definitely entail more cost aside from creating the content itself, it is a powerful strategy that can lead to phenomenal awareness and engagement for the brand – especially if you are about to launch something big.

Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black Branded Content In The New York Times

Netflix is no stranger to the branded content game and they understand the benefit of tapping into an existing audience, specifically the readers of The New York Times. This was done to raise awareness and engagement for the launch of their new drama series series ‘Orange Is The New Black’.

By creating an in-depth article that includes video interviews and mini-documentaries within, the piece crafts a powerful narrative that fully educates readers on the state of women inmates in America, the issues they are facing and how it is impacting both society and the women themselves.

The research was done and the article written natively in a professional journalistic approach to ensure the content added real value to readers, spurring engagement from the millions of readers of the publication.


Branded Content Is Here To Stay – Capitalize On It!

If you are still relying on traditional advertising methods, I hate to break the news but that strategy will be yielding lower results with each passing year.

Maybe you are relying on content marketing and building your ‘owned’ audience and that is great and you should continue.

But if you want to experience greater awareness and engagement from a wider audience that hasn’t heard of your brand yet, then branded content is the way to go.

Ready to get started with branded content?

We can help. Let’s develop a content strategy plus develop your branded content from the ground up together.

Connect with us here and let’s get cracking!

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