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Branded Content: What is it?

In this post, we’re going to unpack branded content to answer two key questions: How is it different from other forms of content marketing? And, why does it matter?

A 1937 recording of NBC and CBS's "Guiding Light" (Image Source: NPR)

What is Branded Content?

In the simplest of terms, branded content can be defined as any piece of storytelling that integrates, or is presented by, a brand. It can take the form of a podcast, TV series, digital series, news article or, in the case of a larger project like “The LEGO Movie”, a feature film.


While branded entertainment is often considered a contemporary marketing solution, it’s a form of content that predates television as we know it. As early as the 1930s, brands were sponsoring their own radio variety shows and dramas. This was such a popular model, that it gave way to entirely new genres. The term “soap opera”, for example, was inspired by the myriad of radio and television dramas that were sponsored and produced by soap companies, most notably P&G’s “Guiding Light” which ran for 72 years on both radio and television.


(Image Source: Hiveage)

How is branded content different from other forms of content marketing?

Whereas other forms of content marketing promote products or services through a call-to-action, the purpose of branded content is to generate brand awareness and establish specific positioning. It does so by sharing stories that reflect the brand’s values, while providing consumers with valuable, engaging entertainment. Branded content counteracts the disruptive nature of traditional advertisements: ads interrupt; branded content entertains.


(Image Source: Marketingland)

Why does it matter?

A lot has changed since “Guiding Light” first aired. With new and emerging platforms on the rise, audiences have more choices than ever before when it comes to the content they view and the products they buy. Traditional media, like television and radio, no longer dominate consumption; content is everywhere. In an age of ubiquitous media, it’s up to brands to provide value-added consumer experiences – and content – if they want to break through the noise. A study by IPG Media Lab found that 59% of consumers seek out brands after viewing branded content vs. only 45% of people who do so after viewing a traditional ad, so it’s proven that great branded content has the power to break through the noise.


Branded content’s emphasis on storytelling and entertainment makes it inherently consumer focused. It invites consumers to take part in a conversation that aligns with the brand’s values, authentically establishing meaningful trust. 71% of young adults believe that entertainment is the most effective way for brands to connect with them (Branded Content Marketing Association), so it’s no surprise that big brands like Red Bull, Butterball, and Toyota, all deploy branded content to engage consumers and spark conversation.


Cultural shifts have placed an increased focus on brand values, while changing patterns of consumption and new technologies have generated an influx of content. As the world competes for both consumer time and attention, branded content continues to be a solution for breaking through the noise to engage consumers in a meaningful, long-lasting way.

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