Gemma Newland, managing director of brand entertainment agency Stream\, believes that a brand entertainment strategy should underpin all marketing activity. 'We live in an entertainment economy. Brands should take a step back and evaluate what they can offer consumers that they cannot get elsewhere,' she says. Brands following this principle include Audi, which has created a whole channel dedicated to its motoring expertise, and Pepsi, which has created a variety of football-themed shows designed to shore up its sports credentials.
While there has been no shortage of articles waxing lyrical on the huge potential of branded content, those making a long-term investment in the medium remain few and far between. The fact that the industry is yet to establish a universally recognised research tool to measure the effectiveness of branded content also remains a sticking point.
It is vital for branded content to have a defined purpose, according to Phil Holliday, head of branded content specialist OMD Fuse. 'Marketers need to ask themselves why they want to create their own content. It should not simply be about ticking off a box,' he says.
The most effective branded content is a long-term investment rather than a one-off. While many brands have dabbled in branded entertainment merely as an afterthought to core marketing activity, firms such as Nissan have benefited from placing it at the core of their investment.
However, big broadcasters have historically been resistant to branded content says Mark Cullen, chief executive of ETV. 'Smaller channels have always been more open to it, but it is expensive to make a show with high production values, and it often doesn't add up as an investment,' he adds.
Nonetheless, Daniel Salem, head of partnerships at Viacom Brand Solutions, believes that when branded content is part of a broader campaign it can work across numerous channels. 'We created content to support the launch of the NFL American football in the UK, which was a central part of the group's broader activity,' he says. According to Salem, the key for brands is to work with broadcasters from the earliest possible stage.
Privately, however, many broadcasters question the effectiveness of branded channels and agencies agree that branded content can be complicated, and that its production is often less straightforward than that of a 30-second spot ad. However, Malcolm Gerrie, chief executive of WhizzKid Entertainment, argues that ownership of content is hugely valuable. 'A 30-second spot is pretty one-dimensional and has a short lifespan compared with a series of entertainment shows,' he says. One such example is Tiscali's creation of a series of interviews with music stars such as Amy Winehouse to support its Tiscali Sessions show, broadcast on Channel 4 and on its own website, which can now be used across multiple markets.
In short, it seems that the rewards of branded content are well worth the risk for brands that are willing and able to commit the necessary time and investment.
Case study: Nissan
Nissan places branded content at the centre of its marketing strategy. It sponsors three global sports events and disseminates original content across its key markets. Its sports-oriented positioning is key to the marque, as 4X4 cars face increasing criticism on environmental grounds.
In 2006, the car manufacturer centralised its brand entertainment and events division to develop a unified strategy and maximise its sports association. Darren Cox, European brand promotion manager at Nissan, says the change marked the replacement of an arbitrary 'president's choice' approach to sponsor-ship with a focus on an integrated solution.
Nissan is the driving force behind the Freeride World Tour, in which the world's best skiers and snowboarders battle it out to be crowned Freeride World Champion. More than 30 films have been created by Stream\ to support the Tour in Nissan's key markets.
The agency has also created Bluetooth content to be down-loaded at ski resorts, and offers consumers the opportunity to film their own skills on a specially-created course, the 'Nissan All Mode Run'.
Cox says that this marks a shift in strategy for the brand, which is scaling back its investment in TV advertising to focus on online activity and branded content. 'Content generation is all about making a better connection with consumers,' he explains. 'In the future, TV ads will simply become signposts to branded content, so it is useful to start creating that as soon as possible.'
Nissan's sports positioning has provided it with a wealth of footage to broadcast on its dedicated site www.nissan-sportsadventure.com, and deals have been struck with local broadcasters and network channels such as the Extreme Sports Channel.
Research and measurement has been a sticking point for businesses investing in branded content, but Nissan believes its investment has paid off. It claims a series of surveys have shown that a rising number of consumers agreeing with the statement that 'Nissan is a brand for people like me.'
Ad funded tips
- Agree from the start how the effectiveness of the project will be monitored. Set out clear objectives on what it is hoped will be achieved.
- Check the track record of any agency hired.
- Negotiate intellectual property at the beginning of a project, keeping in mind all eventualities.
- Do not rely on one media channel - make use of the content across platforms.
- If creating TV content, use more than one channel.
Why are long-term branded content deals so scarce? Go to brandrepublic.com/marketing