Branded Content: The What, Why, When, and How

What exactly is branded content?

Branded content is content that does not involve traditional advertising. It can include articles, videos, podcasts, and even live elements that bring relevant value to the consumer. It is not advertising in the way most people think of advertising (commercials, banner ads, social media ads, etc…). The key is grabbing the attention of today’s consumer and driving real engagement through content. Branded content can entertain people or teach them something, resulting in better brand engagement returns than standard pre roll content.

The Story of Branded Content

One of the most successful branded content campaigns to date was Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches. Dove began customer research, and discovered that only 4% of women polled would describe themselves as “beautiful”. The team at Dove thought they could do something to change this disappointing statistic. They created an idea and value around their brand that “beauty is for everyone.” The next step was to figure out how to deliver this message to their community.

Dove created a series of videos that featured an FBI sketch artist who drew women as they described themselves. Next, the artist drew portraits of the same women, but a stranger gave the descriptions. The difference between the two sketches was often breathtaking. The campaign went viral, and over 50 million people viewed the videos during the first 12 days of release. To date, Dove has had almost 180 million views — views that are intentional and targeted. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign was the most watched branded content in 2013. It was also the third most shared video.

Here’s an interesting fact: approximately 86% of TV viewers skip advertising. While TV is still an important way for advertisers to reach new customers, it doesn’t work as well as it did in the past. Companies need to try new methods if they want to keep their viewers’ attention.

The History of Branded Content

Is branded content a new concept?

Branded content is not exactly a new trend. It is actually based on an old business model in the advertising and marketing industry. According to Brian Clark, the CEO of Copyblogger, branded content is like some of the content created in the 1940s or earlier. In the 40s, it was common for shows to have a specific sponsor, or even for a brand to create their own content. Sound familiar?

Fast forward to the 1970s, and brands like Proctor and Gamble are creating soap operas. They not only sponsored the shows, but also produced shows like Guiding Light and As The World Turns.

While branded content is nothing new, it has become more popular. Today’s branded content includes podcasts, videos, web series, articles, and even virtual reality.

Why Branded Content Works Better Than Traditional Advertising

Advertising is everywhere. We get ads in our Facebook feeds, our streaming accounts, and even on our e-readers. We see billboards, email marketing, and banner ads daily. Think about how many ads you skip on YouTube every day. But, you might search for the Dove Real Beauty Sketches on YouTube, or tune into a podcast like GE’s The Message. If you’re like many viewers, you’ve even shared branded content on social media.

While branded content appears to be a current trend, it’s one that works. Here’s why: When a consumer watches branded content, their brand recall is up to 59% higher than it is with display ads. Viewers are also 14% more likely to seek out extra content from the same brand. As far as ROI goes, these are strong numbers.

Branded content gets more attention and creates brand recognition. Consumers like branded content because they believe the content is more consumer-focused. Since the message isn’t a sales pitch, it creates trust between the brand and the consumer. Traditional advertising does not have the same outcome.

GE Reports

A great example of branded content is GE’s website GE Reports. GE launched GE Reports to tell interesting stories related to their industry. GE Reports features articles from many different voices. They talk about innovation, digital transformation, and also business at GE. One thing they don’t do is advertise their products. Their website is a source for news and information, not direct sales. It is an authority source and it provides a benefit to consumers.

Netflix, Orange is the New Black, and The New York Times

Another example of modern branded content comes from Netflix. Netflix wrote an article about women inmates as a piece of branded content in The New York Times. The content relates to their show Orange is the New Black, but the article was not about the show. Approximately 1-million readers of The New York Times saw this article when it came out. The article talked about real issues female inmates go through, creating interest. By getting readers interested in the topic, they were able to get more viewers for the show.

The Science of (Good) Branded Content:

So, how does branded content perform? It performs very well.

Nielsen discovered that brand recall was 86% for branded content, and only 65% for regular ads.

Of course, not all branded content is equal. Nielsen also found that there are certain qualities in all good branded content. These are: a central personality, a unique concept, and connection with the audience. It is also important for the style of content to be a good fit for the brand.

The purpose of the content also matters according to the marketing firm Edelman. They say that a brand’s purpose matters to consumers when they are in the market to make a purchase. Communicating the brand’s purpose is easier with branded content than with traditional advertising.

Part of the science of creating branded content that gets results is knowing where it will be viewed. According to a study conducted by Polar, 55% of branded content is viewed on mobile devices. Creating content that works well with phones and tablets will mean more views and shares.

Another key insight comes from the world of online content. Valuable online content still gets a lot of attention, but 82% of Americans ignore online ads. This is why 50% of marketers in 2015 reported an increase in spending on branded content. The old ways don’t work anymore. It’s time to do something that will get people’s attention and keep it.

The Future of (Great) Branded Content

“The future is already here, it’s just not widely distributed.” –William Gibson

This quote sums up what we think is the future of great branded content. Those who are creating it are getting results. Those who aren’t creating it yet are getting inspired by what the future holds. Here are stories of 7 branded content examples that show the future of this new (old) medium.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee — Branded Content Series

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is a branded web series created by Acura and Seinfeld. In each episode a different comedian gets in a vintage car with Jerry, has a conversation, and gets coffee. Each episode is about 10–15 minutes in length. It was a simple idea, and Seinfeld was drawn to the idea that these ads would fit in with his series organically. Acura has been a sponsor of the entire series, which recently moved over from Crackle to Netflix.

Marvel’s Runaways with Lyft and the City of Los Angeles

The popular Marvel series — Runaways, is created by Hulu, the city of Los Angeles, and Lyft. The story follows 6 teenagers who find out their parents are actually super-villains. They also discover they may have magical powers. Since the characters use Lyft to get around town, the brand is able to increase their brand awareness.

IRL Podcast by Mozilla

Mozilla, the creators of Firefox, created a branded content podcast. IRL (In Real Life) is based on the idea that our online lives are part of our real life. In creating their podcast, Mozilla tackles issues they fight for through their non-profit. Sample topics include: net neutrality, internet bullying and trolls, and free speech. The branded content podcast attempts to “change the course of the Internet, in order to keep it healthy, weird, and wonderful for everyone.”

GE’s The Message

GE’s The Message was an 8-series weekly podcast. It was about the decoding of a message from outer space that was allegedly received 70 years ago. It was based on reports and interviews from Nicky Tomlin. The podcast focused on decryption methods from a top cryptology team. During the 8-week run, the series received 1.2 million downloads. It also reached the number one spot on iTunes podcast charts.

Vox Creative and MGM Grand

Branded content can also be experienced in person. For example, Vox Creative, and MGM Grand Hotel & Casino worked together on a new hotel lobby display. This project began as an online contest and became an in-person installation. Together the production studio and hotel created a cutting edge display. It features a mirror-laden design and illuminates Leo the Lion, MGM’s mascot. Visitors to the lobby can interact with videos, animation, and computer technology. The display will be available through January 2018.

This new display began as an online contest hosted by MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. They wanted to choose a production company to create an exciting new lobby display. The competitors each created branded content videos that were posted online. Viewers then voted for their favorite videos. The contest videos were viewed more than 5 million times in the first few weeks of the contest alone.

LEGO The Movie

The LEGO movie was such a hit in the box office that people didn’t realize it was branded content for the LEGO brand. The movie increased brand awareness and also increased sales. It became one of the most successful branded content pieces of all time. Sales for LEGO increased by 25% in 2015 after the release of the movie.

TOMS

Branded content can also be used for social good. Take TOMS shoes, for example. They created a video that allowed viewers to tag along as they went on a charitable trip to Peru. This campaign allowed viewers to experience the joy of giving. Viewers can change the camera angle of the video and they get to experience the local culture. The video also teaches viewers about the brand.

How Can Branded Content Help You?

What does this mean for the future of your marketing strategy? Branded content is here to stay and it will continue to become more popular. If your company hasn’t gotten on the branded content wagon yet, it’s not too late to get started! Make 2018 the year you connect with your customers in an authentic and real way. Your sales might even soar in the process.

Here at The Mission Studios, we’d be happy to help promote your work, campaign, or project. We create original content for brands (whether it’s a branded podcast, video series, or short) and distribute it to our audience of millions.


The Mission reaches millions of amazing people every month. We only work with brands whose products we use, love and trust. Storytelling isn’t easy, and if you need some guidance, we’ve got folks ready to help. Connect with The Mission’s Creative Team here!


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