En­ter­tain­ment vs Pro­mo­tion

It takes guts to let a brand take the back­seat to sto­ry­telling, but that’s ex­actly what branded con­tent should be do­ing

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - - I.A.

What is branded con­tent? Is it con­tent mar­ket­ing, na­tive ad­ver­tis­ing or prod­uct place­ment? Is it en­ter­tain­ment in which the brand has taken a sup­port­ing role? It is this con­fu­sion that goes some way to­wards ex­plain­ing why there is a cur­rent dearth of qual­ity branded con­tent in the re­gion.

“Agen­cies and spe­cialised con­tent cre­ators are still wrap­ping their heads around this in­cred­i­bly dy­namic for­mat,” ad­mits Zahir Mirza, group cre­ative di­rec­tor at DDB Dubai. “In the re­gion I feel branded con­tent is still in its nascent stages of be­ing un­der­stood, cre­ated and crafted. The task is how do you cre­ate some­thing that’s com­pelling, en­gag­ing and mean­ing­ful with­out a brand mak­ing too many cameo ap­pear­ances. I feel that’s where the strug­gle is right now. But none­the­less it’s a good place to be be­cause it means cre­ative minds are think­ing what their brands could say and stand for be­yond the func­tional and pedan­tic.”

Branded con­tent – vaguely de­scribed by the Branded Con­tent Mar­ket­ing As­so­ci­a­tion as “any man­i­fes­ta­tion as­so­ci­ated with a par­tic­u­lar brand in the eye of the be­holder” – is an easy thing to get

wrong, and part of the prob­lem lies in the for­mat it­self. It can en­com­pass a vast spec­trum of me­dia and meth­ods, mean­ing there are in­nu­mer­able ways to fail, the most com­mon of which are overt mes­sag­ing, lack of rel­e­vance, poor pro­duc­tion val­ues and a fail­ure to de­liver en­ter­tain­ment.

“Less and less we find our­selves in sce­nar­ios where branded con­tent doesn’t come up as a so­lu­tion to a client brief, but as a whole, agen­cies still strug­gle to pro­vide a clear con­tent propo­si­tion,” says Ale­jan­dro Fis­cher, head of strat­egy and in­sights at Havas Me­dia Dubai, which won the branded con­tent and en­ter­tain­ment grand prix at the Dubai Lynx in March for ‘Imag­ine Dubai’. “I be­lieve this is mainly due to the na­ture of branded con­tent it­self and how thin the lines are from one ex­e­cu­tion to the next. Is it in­flu­encers? Prod­uct place­ment? Mul­tichan­nel se­ries or ed­i­to­rial in­te­gra­tion? It’s all those things and more, which makes it an ex­cit­ing mar­ket­ing tool, al­though dif­fi­cult to nar­row down into a con­sis­tent client-fac­ing prod­uct. Like ev­ery­thing else, great con­tent needs to stem from a great insight and achieve spe­cific ob­jec­tives.”

In the­ory branded con­tent, or branded en­ter­tain­ment, should an­swer many of the ques­tions posed by ad­ver­tis­ers who wish to de­liver great con­tent. Af­ter all, the poet Muriel Rukeyser said “the uni­verse is made up of sto­ries, not of atoms”, and branded con­tent is es­sen­tially sto­ries and sce­nar­ios told in an en­ter­tain­ing way. In a multi-plat­form dig­i­tal world, the cre­ation of such con­tent has be­come the holy grail of mar­ket­ing.

And yet, as Mirza states, “most agen­cies treat branded con­tent as long for­mat ad­ver­tis­ing com­mer­cials with clichéd nar­ra­tive arcs and soppy, drab plot lines”. Why? “Au­then­tic­ity is miss­ing,” says Fouad Ab­del Malak, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at TBWA\RAAD Dubai. “There seems to be a re­sis­tance to gen­uine sto­ries. Branded con­tent is, un­for­tu­nately, still based on a ‘chan­nel’ con­cept, not a ‘con­tent’ con­cept; al­ways plac­ing the prod­uct at the cen­tre, even if it’s not done in a com­pelling way. The re­sult is in­va­sive and con­trived con­tent that falls by the way­side in this dig­i­tal age.

“There needs to be more fo­cus on en­ter­tain­ment value and cul­tural rel­e­vance ver­sus bla­tant brand­ing, and more at­ten­tion to qual­ity sto­ry­telling ver­sus the ‘fast and cheap’ for­mula. [Be­cause] when branded con­tent is done well it should bring that par­tic­u­lar brand closer to peo­ple’s lives and make it mat­ter more than other brands.”

The chal­lenge for agen­cies and clients alike is find­ing that bal­ance be­tween en­ter­tain­ment and pro­mo­tion. Some­thing that is far from easy to do in a world pop­u­lated by ra­bid mar­keters who fail to ap­pre­ci­ate sub­tlety.

So what is the key to great branded con­tent? Im­mer­sion and en­gage­ment, says Malak. Depth and res­o­nance, says Mirza. “Never struc­ture the nar­ra­tive like you would a com­mer­cial,” in­sists Mirza. “Ap­proach it like a piece of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and not ad­ver­tis­ing. Keep the nar­ra­tive mov­ing for­ward. Don’t dwell on things too long. Keep the brand out as far as pos­si­ble. Bring it in sub­tly at the end if pos­si­ble, like pixie dust sign off. Make sure the con­tent is top­i­cal. It makes it that much more sticky and sharable.”

Most agen­cies treat branded con­tent as long for­mat ad­ver­tis­ing com­mer­cials with clichéd nar­ra­tive arcs and soppy, drab plot lines. - Zahir Mirza, group cre­ative di­rec­tor at DDB Dubai /HVV DQG OHVV ZH ÀQG our­selves in sce­nar­ios where branded con­tent doesn’t come up as a so­lu­tion to a client brief, but as a whole, agen­cies still strug­gle to pro­vide a clear con­tent propo­si­tion. - Ale­jan­dro Fis­cher, head of strat­egy and in­sights at Havas Me­dia Dubai

There have been suc­cesses, of course. ‘Imag­ine Dubai’, which used the city as the back­drop for the new Imag­ine Dragons’ mu­sic video Thun­der, is one ex­am­ple. Blasts from the past such as Eurostar’s Somers Town and BMW’S The Hire also res­onate well as client-funded films.

“Cre­at­ing con­tent peo­ple want to con­sume is hard work for most mar­keters in the re­gion be­cause some­where along the line some ‘clever’ per­son dropped the two words clients love to hear most: ‘sav­ings’ (most peo­ple can’t pro­duce great con­tent that con­nects with au­di­ences us­ing just their phone, de­spite the myths) and ‘so­cial me­dia’ (it’s where ev­ery­body’s at, and it will give you so many more op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell),” says Malak. “But what they for­get to men­tion – a cru­cial, of­ten for­got­ten fact – is that very few peo­ple care about your story, and fewer still ap­pre­ci­ate it be­ing forced on them while they’re al­ready try­ing to bal­ance their busy, com­pli­cated lives, made even more com­pli­cated due to in­for­ma­tion overload.”

Me­dia, too, is key. Fis­cher believes that the no­tion of tac­ti­cal branded ‘con­tent hubs’, whereby con­sumers are ex­pected to con­tinue their jour­neys on client-owned plat­forms, needs to be rethought.

“With on­site en­gage­ments and time spent go­ing down dras­ti­cally, it is wish­ful think­ing to as­sume con­sumers will spend time con­sum­ing con­tent on any­thing other than their trusted sources,” says Fis­cher. “In­stead, we need to em­brace the nat­u­ral flow of the dig­i­tal con­sumer be­hav­iour and en­sure that our con­tent can be di­gested where con­sumers are al­ready spend­ing their time, mak­ing it so­cial, video and mo­bile first, en­sur­ing that we can tell the full story within these chan­nels.

“To­day, we have all the tools to de­liver great ex­pe­ri­ences with­out dis­rupt­ing or­ganic user jour­neys such as cross-chan­nel re-tar­get­ing or se­quen­tial mes­sag­ing. We are also able to closely mon­i­tor what worked and what didn’t, and what are the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the users who en­gage. The more em­pha­sis we put in cre­at­ing con­tent tai­lored to these plat­forms the bet­ter the re­sults will be. I be­lieve this is a much bet­ter way to build mean­ing­ful on­go­ing re­la­tion­ships with our au­di­ences, and be­cause these chan­nels are al­ready de­signed for shar­ing and con­sum­ing con­tent, we can de­liver a greater ROI.”

So what should the fu­ture look like for a for­mat that is strug­gling to dis­tance it­self from an overtly cor­po­rate and com­mer­cial present?

“It’s go­ing to look and feel more au­then­tic,” says Mirza. “The themes will be braver and bolder. The craft, from an ex­e­cu­tion stand­point, will look less ad­ver­tis­ing and more filmic. That’s a long story short.”

“The chal­lenge of telling sto­ries that con­sumers care about will re­main,” adds Fis­cher. “The evo­lu­tion will come from dis­tri­bu­tion and how we will be able to per­son­alise con­tent at scale. The fact that when I open my Net­flix app I get to see a dif­fer­ent trailer than my neigh­bour for the same TV show (based on my be­hav­iour), and that this con­tent even varies de­pend­ing on the de­vice I am us­ing, is the per­fect ex­am­ple of this shift. As au­to­ma­tion of me­dia be­comes the norm, we will have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to tai­lor con­tent to our au­di­ences, but we will also have to work harder to add value.”

There needs to be more fo­cus on en­ter­tain­ment value and cul­tural rel­e­vance ver­sus bla­tant brand­ing, and more at­ten­tion to qual­ity sto­ry­telling ver­sus the ‘fast and cheap’ for­mula. - Fouad Ab­del Malak, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor at TBWA\RAAD Dubai

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